Jeter and Larkin could have been teammates. The Reds held the fifth overall pick in the 1992 draft, and after four teams — Houston, Cleveland, Montreal and Baltimore — passed on Jeter, some in the draft room at Riverfront Stadium thought they would take Jeter, a star at Kalamazoo Central High School in Michigan.
A top scout, Gene Bennett, had been instrumental in drafting amateurs from the Midwest like Larkin, Paul O’Neill and Chris Sabo, a group that helped the Reds win the 1990 World Series. Bennett badly wanted Jeter, but the scouting director, Julian Mock, took a college outfielder named Chad Mottola instead.
“Julian Mock’s position in the room, and I’ll never forget this, he said: ‘Mottola’s got a chance to be a 40-home run guy, he’s got a great arm, and we already have Larkin,’” said Jim Bowden, who was then the Reds’ director of player development.
“Larry Barton Jr. — another one of the older Reds guys who were there forever — stood up and said, ‘What do you think we did with Eric Davis? Eric Davis was a shortstop, too, and we put him in center field.’ And Gene Bennett said, ‘Exactly, we could move Jeter to center or you could have Jeter play shortstop and Larkin play center. But there’s enough middle of the diamond for everybody. Don’t let that be the reason.’”
It was a monumental mistake for the Reds, who are still waiting for their next pennant. They would get only 17 hits from Mottola, who batted .200 in a brief career and is now the hitting coach for the Tampa Bay Rays. Jeter, meanwhile, collected 3,465 hits for the Yankees, batted .310 and made 2,660 starts at shortstop, the most in baseball history.