Yesterday the Baseball Hall of Fame announced the results of the latest voting from the baseball writers. Tigers shortstop Alan Trammell once again fell far short of induction, and with the little support he’s getting, it looks more and more like he’ll never make it to Cooperstown.
By many standards, that doesn’t make any sense at all. Trammell was one of the very best shortstops in all of baseball for nearly 15 years. His crime seems to be that he wasn’t flashy enough.
As longtime Detroit Tigers coach Dick Tracewski once told me, “Never, at any time, would any good baseball man have traded Alan Trammell straight up for Ozzie Smith.” The two shortstops were almost exact contemporaries who enjoyed their primes during the same stretch, but Trammell was always the better player, the more complete player. It wasn’t even close.
No offense to The Wizard, who played the position as well as anyone ever has, flashing his glove like a maestro. But it’s head scratching that the baseball writers gave Ozzie more than 90% of the vote on his first ballot in 2002, while Trammell has never cracked 30%. It’s the case of charisma over consistency, of flash over fundamentals, of one-dimensional over multi-faceted.
Trammell’s not the only player to suffer from this bias, time and time again, players who were very, very good at many things, but not demonstrably great at one, have been overlooked completely or been forced to wait years to be enshrined in Cooperstown. Outfielder Andre Dawson wasn’t elected until his ninth year of eligibility and in many ways was similar to Trammell, excelling in nearly every aspect of the game: running, throwing, defense, power, hitting, and fielding. Ron Santo was the best all-around third baseman in his league and maybe all of baseball for a decade, but he didn’t get in after 15 tries on the writers’ ballot, and only earned election last December, sadly a year after he died.
Neither Santo nor Dawson nor Trammell were great in any one aspect of the game. They weren’t super sluggers like Ralph Kiner or Harmon Killebrew, nor did they have the other wordly defensive reputations of Smith or Bill Mazeroski, a second baseman who played mostly in the 1960s, and was never considered the best player on his team. Mazeroski was a one-dimensional ballplayer who earned the nickname “No Hands” because he could get rid of the baseball so fast on the double play pivot. He was elected via the Veterans Committee, but other players who were known primarily for one great talent have been elected by the BBWAA. There’s Lou Brock, who set base stealing records but rarely hit for power and was shifted in the outfield to make room for better defensive players.
And then there are relief specialists like Dennis Eckersley and Bruce Sutter, both of whom earned election in the last decade based on their roles out of the pen. Players like Trammell and Dawson, and Dale Murphy (who has hardly gained any attention on the BBWAA ballot despite being acclaimed as the best player in baseball for about 5-6 years in the 1980s) get less support than these players who excelled at one thing.
That’s not to take away from Sutter, Eckersley, and others who have earned election, but players who were excellent in many areas for a long time should also get their due. For Trammell and Santo, the wait has been made longer by the fact that they failed to achieve “automatic” levels of induction, like 3,000 hits or 500 homers. Other players who were great in many facets of the game, like Robin Yount and Paul Molitor (contemporaries of Trammell) reached the 3,000-hit mark and were escorted into Cooperstown immediately.
Having settled in around 20-30% support after 11 years on the ballot, Trammell has no chance of making it via that route. His only opportunity after his 15 years are up on the BBWAA ballot, is to be considered by some future version of the ever-changing veterans committee, which currently is comprised primarily of the Hall of Famers themselves, a group that has a vested interest in keeping the numbers of inductees down.
Unfortunately, Detroit fans will have to be content with knowing that Trammell is the greatest shortstop to ever wear the Old English “D” and leave it at that. while other players are enshrined who weren’t ever as good as he was (I’m looking at you Phil Rizzuto and Ozzie), Tram seems destined to be the “best shortstop not in Cooperstown.”