December 13th, 2017
Sorry Jack, Sweet Lou should have
earned Hall of Fame nod with Tram
By KEITH GAVE
Go ahead, admit it. Your first inclination after hearing the news that former Tigers Jack Morris and Alan Trammell had won induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame was, “Well, what about Lou Whitaker?”
In fact, shame on you if that wasn’t your immediate reaction.
Lou Whitaker and Alan Trammell were the best all-around double-play combination in major league baseball history. In fact, no other tandem comes close, and the statistics support it.
They played 1,918 games together from 1977-95, nearly two decades in which Tigers fans couldn’t say one name without the other. It just seemed sacrilegious to speak of just one of them.
Together – always together – they won a World Series title in 1984, combined for 11 All-Star Game appearances, won seven Gold Gloves and seven Silver Slugger awards.
So while it might have given us a moment of warmth on a cold December day to hear that Morris and Trammell were headed to Cooperstown, we couldn’t help but think the Hall of Fame’s 11-member Historical Overview Committee didn’t bobble an routine play for an error. Morris, while deserving, could have made it another year.
Trammell and Whitaker should have gone in together. Period. Certainly, Whitaker didn’t deserve this snub.
And snub might not be a strong-enough word. Whitaker wasn’t even on the 10-man list of candidates the committee was considering. Others included Michigan State alum Steve Garvey and Southfield native Ted Simmons, along with Tommy John, Don Mattingly, Dale Murphy, Dave Parker, Louis Tiant and Marvin Miller, the late players-union boss.
An impressive list, no doubt, but by virtually any measure Lou Whitaker belonged among them. Using traditional statistics – hits, runs, average, home runs and fielding percentage – Whitaker’s resume stacks up nicely against most second basementalready in the Hall. In 2,390 games over 19 seasons, he slashed .276/.363/.426, with 244 home runs and 1,084 RBIs.
But consider one of today’s most valued stats, Wins Above Replacement (WAR), Whitaker stands far above every player on that list. Trammell had the best WAR among this year’s candidates at 70.4. Whitaker finished at 74.9. In fact, only two position players in baseball history who are eligible for induction own a higher career WAR than Sweet Lou: Bill Dahlen, who played around the turn of the century in 1900, and Barry Bonds, whose alleged use of steroids taint every statistic he compiled.
Combined, Trammell and Whitaker ended their careers with a 145.3 WAR. The next closest tandem was Pee Wee Reese and Jackie Robinson, both Hall of Famers, who played for the Dodgers from 1947-56. More recently, for comparison’s sake, the New York Yankees’ Derek Jeter and Robinson Cano, who played together from 1005-12, had a combined WAR of 61.3.
Tram and Lou, as we came to know them, were fresh-faced late-season callups when manager Ralph Houk penciled their names into the starting lineup together – always together – on Sept. 9, 1977. Whitaker, 20, batting second behind Ron Leflore, singled in his first at-bat and promptly stole second and wound up at third when the catcher’s throw went into centerfield. He was stranded there.
But in the third inning, Trammell, the 19-year-old No. 9 hitter, singled in his first at-bat and scored on a double by Whitaker. And from that moment they were inseparable.
The following winter, I was a just a few months into my first newspaper job in Lansing when the Tigers’ annual caravan came through town. I interviewed Leflore that day, hearing his gratitude for how the Tigers gave him an opportunity to turn his life around after a stretch in prison. But I was most intrigued by skinny, acne-scared kid and his even skinnier black sidekick who were supposed to be the next big thing at The Corner.
“Hey Lou, look, there’s Danny Litwhiler,” Trammell said, pointing to the Michigan State baseball coach having a conversation with then Tigers GM Jim Campbell. “His glove is in the Hall of Fame because he once played an entire season for the St. Louis Cardinals without committing an error.”
(In fact, Litwhiler played 151 games in 1942, and handled all 317 chances perfectly. He also set a record for playing 187 straight games over two seasons without an error. How a kid growing up in San Diego could possibly know this is beyond me – but that’s the kind of sports fan Alan Trammell was, and is.)
On Sept. 13, 1995, Trammell and Whitaker set the major-league record for most games ever played by a keystone combination. I was there, then, too, for the matinee game, having left the radio station after my morning shift to arrive at Tiger Stadium just as the players were filtering out for batting practice.
By chance, I saw Al Kaline sitting alone in the Tigers dugout and joined him. I asked him to try to put into perspective what we’d be witness in a few hours when Tram and Lou took the field once more.
Kaline shook his head, struggling to find the words to describe the accomplishment. I asked about their credentials for the Hall of Fame one day.
“Look at all they’ve accomplished, the numbers, it’ll be hard to keep them out,” said Kaline, a rare, first-ballot Hall of Famer himself. “And they should go in together, too, obviously.”
So the Hall of Fame selection committee screwed up. It doesn’t mean Whitaker is out of contention forever. In fact, some of its members, hearing the outrage emanating from Detroit, are conceding that Whitaker surely will be seriously considered in the future.
Kirk Gibson, a cornerstone with Trammell and Whitaker on that 1984 World Series team, can make the closing argument:
“They weren’t flashy; they were just damn good,” Gibson told Baseball Prospectus for a story published in 2010. “They were big-time playmakers when it counted. They were very consistent and steady. And both were very, very, very good hitters. They were simply big-time players.
“Maybe I’m partial—in fact, I’m sure I am—but there have never been two people to play like that, together, in the history of the game. I don’t know why they wouldn’t be [in the Hall of Fame]. I don’t know why baseball wouldn’t want them in the Hall of Fame, or why they wouldn’t want to promote that, because it’s exceptional, what they did. It’s just exceptional. They should be in there together.”
Their plaques side by side in Cooperstown. Together – always together.