The Reds Great Shortstop Battle – Kurt Stillwell 1986 Topps
Back in the 1980s the Cincinnati Reds had a big decision to make at shortstop. Earlier in the decade, they used two high first round draft picks on the position.
Kurt Stillwell and Barry Larkin had both made it to the the big leagues as the Reds two top prospects by 1987 and the Reds needed to select one to take over for nine-time All-Star to Dave Conception.
Stilwell was selected with the second overall pick in the 1983 draft – the highest pick ever for the franchise. Larkin was the hometown son, picked in the first round of the 1985 with the fourth overall selection.
The decision in front of the Reds was similar to the Ohio State quarterback battle of 2015 between JT Barrett and Cardale Jones. The team seemingly could not go wrong no matter who they tapped to be the shortstop of the future.
In 1987, Larkin grabbed the favor of manager Pete Rose and started 115 games at shortstop, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer. Stillwell meanwhile started 46 games at shortstop, 34 at second base and 13 at third base. The previous season, Stillwell played in 80 games at shortstop.
While the Reds moved Stillwell around the infield, they never considered him to be strong enough offensively to switch positions, then Cincinnati General Manager Murray Cook told the Enquirer in 2012. Cincinnati already had Buddy Bell at third base and Ron Oester at second base despite an ACL injury.
Following the season, Cook traded Stillwell to the Kansas City Royals along with Ted Power, both favorites of owner Marge Schott, for starting pitcher Danny Jackson and relief pitcher Angel Salazar.
Stillwell was relieved to be out of Cincinnati where he didn’t feel like he was has treated fairly in the Queen City. He told the Enquirer at the time that there was a lack of communication.
The deal worked out well for Stillwell initially. He was named an American League All-Star in 1988 and played in the game that was held at Cincinnati’s Riverfront Stadium. However he struggled to live up to the expectations of being the second overall draft pick.
Jackson went from 18 losses in 1987 to a National League high 23 wins the year after the trade. He finished second in the NL Cy YOung race and helped the Reds win the World Series in 1990.
Stillwell went on to play for the San Diego Padres, Califonia Angels and Texas Rangers before retiring following the 1996 season.
He then became a player agent with Scott Boras and helped land Washington National outfielder Bryce Harper for the firm, according to the Enquirer.
The trade opened the way for Larkin to become the face of the franchise and a hall of fame career.