I read the other day that Cal Ripken, Jr. said that Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker deserve to be in the Hall Fame as a tandem.
I watched these two kids play their entire careers in Detroit. You might argue that their numbers aren’t Hall of Fame worthy. After all, Trammell hit only .285 over a 19-year big league career, with only 185 homeruns and 2,365 hits.
Lou Whitaker batted .276, hit 244 career homeruns and amassed 2,369 hits.
“Sweet Lou” and “Tram” came up together in late 1977. In 1979, when Hall of Fame manager Sparky Anderson took over managing the Tigers, he called them lightweights and didn’t expect them to last long in the major leagues.
And all they did for the next 18 years was hit, field, turn double plays and, oh yes, hit some more.
Sometimes career statistics can be misleading.
Consider that in 1984, the season Detroit started 35-5, Trammell battled tendonitis to finish fifth in the AL batting race with a .314 batting average. In the American League Championship Series that year, against the Kansas City Royals, Trammell hit .364 with one homerun and three RBI; while in the World Series he was 9-for-20 against the San Diego Padres, including a pair of two-run homeruns that accounted for all of the Tigers’ runs in a Game 4 win. Trammell was named World Series MVP.
In 1985, Trammell became only the second player in Detroit history to hit 20 homeruns and steal 20 bases. Kirk Gibson, Trammell’s team mate during those years, was the other. Curtis Granderson has since become the third.
In 1987, Sparky Anderson moved Tram to the cleanup position in the lineup and he responded with perhaps his best season. In September, he batted .416 with six homers and 17 RBIs, putting together an 18-game hitting streak in which he hit a .457 while helping the Tigers to an AL East title, won by two games on the last day of the season.
He became the first Tiger to collect 200 hits and 100 RBI in the same season since Al Kaline did it 32 years earlier.
He also appeared amongst the league leaders in most AL offensive categories: third in batting average (.343), tenth in RBI (105), third in hits (205), tied for fifth in runs (109), fourth in total bases (329), fifth in on base percentage (.402), eighth in slugging percentage (.551), and tied for fifth in game-winning RBI (16).
Despite those numbers, Trammell finished second to Toronto’s George Bell in the MVP voting (332-311). After the season finale, Whitaker gave him second base, with the inscription: To Alan Trammell, 1987 AL MVP. From Lou Whitaker.
Trammell is a six-time All Star, four-time Gold Glove winner (twice with Whitaker), three-time Top ten MVP, twice had hitting streaks of more than 20 games, twice appeared on the Sporting News AL Silver Slugger Team, and, with Whitaker, holds the AL record for number of games played together (1,918). They still hold the major league record for turning more double plays than any other shortstop-second baseman combination.
The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract rated Trammell as the ninth best shortstop of all time, ahead of 14 Hall of Fame shortstops.
Sadly, Trammell has never gotten more than 18.2% of the votes necessary to be enshrined. His name will next appear on the ballot in 2010.
As for Whitaker, he won rookie of the year honors in 1978, hitting .285 with 71 runs, and a .361 on base percentage.
In his best season, 1983, he hit .320 with 12 homeruns, 72 runs batted in, and 94 runs, and appeared in his first of five consecutive All Star games.
In 1985, Whitaker set a record for Detroit second basemen with 21 home runs, and the following season was a member of a Tigers infield in which every member hit at least 20 home runs.
He hit a career-best 28 homers in 1989, one of four times he reached the 20-plus plateau.
Whitaker reached two career milestones in 1992, recording both his 2,000th hit and his 200th home run. He is ranked in the top three of all time second baseman.
Whitaker is also only one of a select handful of players to ever hit a ball over the roof of old Tiger Stadium and, until Granderson hit his 20th, held the Tigers record for most career homeruns from the leadoff spot.
Whitaker did not receive the necessary five percent of the votes in his first year of eligibility in 2001, and therefore will not be eligible again until 2015.
It’s a sham and a shame that these two kids remain on the outside looking in because… Because why? The only reasons I can think of is that they both played in a less popular baseball market and neither played their position in spectacular fashion. Trammell didn’t have a particularly strong arm, but he had range, soft hands and made accurate throws. Both went about their games in workmanlike fashion, which in a blue collar town like Detroit, the fans love.
Consider Baseball’s Sad Lexicon:
These are the saddest of possible words:
“Tinker to Evers to Chance.”
Trio of bear cubs, and fleeter than birds,
Tinker and Evers and Chance.
Ruthlessly pricking our gonfalon bubble,
Making a Giant hit in a double—
Words that are heavy with nothing but trouble:
“Tinker to Evers to Chance.”
Written by Franklin Pierce Adams from the perspective of a Giants’ fan and first published in the New York Evening Mail in the early part of the 20th century, Baseball’s Sad Lexicon references the Chicago Cubs’ infield of shortstop Joe Tinker, second baseman Johnny Evers, and first baseman Frank Chance.
It has been speculated that these three made it into the Hall in large part the result of Adam’s poem. And if one looks at their career statistics, one can only wonder why Trammell and Whitaker continue to be ignored.
ESPN analyst Jayson Stark wrote of Whitaker in 2003: “His career numbers look attractive by second-base standards. But it’s hard to remember any period when (Lou) Whitaker was looked upon as the greatest second baseman of his era. ‘Just’ a very good player. There’s no shame in that.”
To which I respond: I can’t recall any period when a better keystone combination existed than Trammell and Whitaker. The greater shame is that you don’t recognize that.
Yes, I know, I’m a diehard Tigers fan, always have been, always will be. Loved For Love of the Game, feel connected to Tom Selleck even though we’ve never met.
So maybe I’m not the guy to pen a logical argument to get these two into the Hall.
But I’d say Cal Ripken, Jr. just might be.
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