Here’s an anniversary that’s special to me: on this day in 1977, in the second game of a doubleheader in Boston, Tigers rookies Lou Whitaker and Alan Trammell debuted together.
They would hold down the second base and shortstop jobs, respectively, for the next 19 years. They would both retire as Tigers and never play an inning for another team. They would lead the Tigers to the 1984 World Series title and the 1987 AL East crown and served as the heart and soul of a Tigers team that finished above .500 for 11 straight years during their primes. No double play combination in baseball history has ever played together as long as they did.
Whitaker would finish his career with a career line of .276/.363/.426, which translated to a 117 OPS+, excellent for a second baseman of his era. Trammell would finish with a line of .285/.352/.415, which was a 110 OPS+, outstanding for a shortstop of his time as well. Whitaker won three gold gloves and could’ve won more. Trammell won four gold gloves, could’ve won more and should’ve won the 1987 MVP award. They played in a combined 11 All-Star Games.
Most importantly, they were the stars of an entire Tigers era which featured some truly fantastic baseball. Kirk Gibson was big, but was often hurt and played elsewhere. Jack Morris and Lance Parrish eventually left town too. For Tigers fans, Whitaker and Trammell were the faces of that team from the time they debuted — just a couple of years after Al Kaline retired and while he still was the most famous Tiger — and arguably remained the club’s biggest stars until Miguel Cabrera arrived. For anyone who came of baseball-watching age in Detroit for a 20+ year period, those two were the first two players implanted in their consciousness.
As we’ve noted many times around here, both Whitaker and Trammell got really short shrift in the Hall of Fame vote. Which, I suppose, is understandable for a lot of reasons, even if they’re dumb reasons. But there is absolutely no excuse for them to have gotten the short shrift they have within the Tigers organization.
At present Whitaker’s number 1 is being worn by Jose Iglesias. Trammell’s number 3 is being worn by Ian Kinsler. They’re both fine players and, I presume, good men. But there is no reason whatsoever those numbers should be worn by anyone but Trammell and Whitaker. There is no reason their numbers should not be out on that brick wall in the outfield alongside Charlie Gehringer’s 2, Hank Greenberg’s 5, Al Kaline’s 6, Sparky Anderson’s 11, Hal Newhouser’s 16, and Willie Horton’s 23. Simply put, the biggest stars of every Tigers era have been honored by the team except for the era which may have seen its greatest sustained success. This is unconscionable.
The Tigers are entering a period of uncertainty. They have suffered a bad year, a front office shakeup and could see their manager fired. The organization should give the fans, who have flocked to Comerica Park for years and years, a special day next spring. A day on which Jose Iglesias and Ian Kinsler present Trammell and Whitaker with their numbers and The Tigers present Trammell and Whitaker with the honor they deserve.
Who wouldn’t want to see that? Why hasn’t it happened yet? Why shouldn’t it happen now?