They didn’t seem like much at the time. A pair of skinny kids running out to the middle of the diamond at Fenway Park on September 9, 1977.
One grew up in San Diego, while the other one hailed from a small town on the southern border of Virginia. Alan Trammell was just 19 years old when he made his major league debut that night and his running mate was only 20. No one could have predicted what the next 20 years would hold for the duo.
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On that September night in Boston, in the second game of a doubleheader, the double-play combination of Trammell and Whitaker was born. They would be linked for the next two decades and beyond.
Combined, they played only 496 games in the minor leagues before they were summoned to the big leagues. Both were drafted as 18-year-olds out of high school. Whitaker in the 5th round of the 1975 draft and Trammell in the 2nd round a year later.
Whitaker was being groomed to replace 33-year-old Tito Fuentes who was at the tail end of his 13-year career. Trammell meanwhile was the heir apparent to Tom Veryzer at shortstop. Veryzer hit only .197 that season and was shipped to the Cleveland Indians that December paving the way for Trammell. Fuentes lasted only one year in Detroit before he was sold to the Athletics and Whitaker’s spot opened up.
Before they became regulars, that summer night in Boston provided a preview of what the next twenty years would provide.
In his first at bat, Whitaker, batting second, singled and later stole second base. In the third inning, Trammell singled in his first major league at bat as well and scored two batters later when Whitaker doubled him in. It was only appropriate that Whitaker drove in Trammell for his first major league RBI.
The following season, Whitaker would win the American League Rookie of the Year Award, easily outdistancing Paul Molitor. As for Trammell, it would take only three full seasons in the major leagues to make his first all-star team and win his first gold glove. That happened in 1980 when Tram hit .300 for the first time in his career.
Trammell was known for his steady consistent play at short. Never flashy, he concentrated on being sound fundamentally and making every play. Trammell studied two players in particular on the defensive side. The Orioles Mark Belanger and Eddie Brinkman who made an all-star team as a Tiger in 1973. Belanger and Brinkman represented two of the most consistent shortstops of their day.
There was one big difference between Trammell and his role models: Trammel could hit. Brinkman was a lifetime .224 hitter while Belanger hit only .228. Neither had any power to speak of. Trammell finished his career as a .285 hitter and more than 1000 RBI.
Whitaker showed early in his minor league career that he had the goods to play in the big leagues. He won the batting title in the Florida State League in 1996 playing third base. That fall in instructional league, Whitaker was moved to second base and teamed with Trammell. The paired roomed together, and from that point forward they were linked.
The duo combined for 11 all-star selections, 7 gold gloves, and over 4700 hits. Quite simply they defined the Tigers in the 80’s.
They came from vastly different backgrounds, yet once they were united in professional baseball, they were nearly inseparable.
This past offseason, Trammell was elected to the Hall of Fame on the Modern Baseball Era ballot. He was very clear in his belief that his pal Whitaker should join him. “The two of us together is a better story than one or the other,” he told The Detroit News.
The question remains why it took so long for Trammell to be inducted and why Whitaker remains on the outside looking in. Sweet Lou has a WAR (wins above replacement) that is better than three current second basemen in the Hall, Craig Biggio, Ryne Sandberg, and Roberto Alomar.
Perhaps if Whitaker had spent his career in New York, he would be in at this point. Maybe, maybe not. Perhaps if Whitaker were a more outgoing, flamboyant player, he would be in. I hope not. A player’s personality should have little to do with his worthiness.
Lets just hope someday Lou and Tram will be united again. This time as Hall of Famers.