Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker were the best double play combination ever to play for the Detroit Tigers. That’s pretty obvious. Their only close rivals were Charlie Gehringer and Billy Rogell in the 1930s, but they didn’t play together nearly as long. Tram and Lou played more games together, by far, than any other double play combo for any team in MLB history—in fact, longer than any two teammates at any positions for one team.
Their excellence is not just a matter of longevity; it’s quality as well as quantity. The easiest shorthand way to quantify their careers and their place in baseball history is to look at their lifetime WAR (Wins Above Replacement). No other DP combo who has ever played matches them. Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins of the Phillies compiled a combined 107.6 WAR (as always, I’m using the Baseball Reference.com calculations). Pee Wee Reese and Jackie Robinson of the Dodgers totaled between them 128.1 WAR. Paul Molitor and Robin Yount add up to 136.6, but for many of his seasons Yount was a center fielder, not a shortstop. Whitaker’s 74.9 and Trammell’s 70.4 give them a combined career WAR of 145.3—easily the best of any second base/shortstop partnership.
Trammell and Whitaker, the best DP combo ever to play the game, should each be be in the Baseball Hall of Fame. Their stats are roughly comparable to Hall of Famers Barry Larkin and Joe Morgan. As I’ve written before, the fact that Sweet Lou didn’t make the cut by failing to garner even 5 percent of the vote in his first year of eligibility is one of the biggest travesties in the history of Cooperstown voting.
The Tigers have not even honored the duo by retiring their numbers—though they played their entire careers in Detroit. Instead, they’ve allowed subsequent Tigers to wear their numbers—currently, the new DP combo of Ian Kinsler and Jose Iglesias.
On the last Sunday in October, a group of fans did their best to correct this oversight. Members of the Navin Field Grounds Crew, the volunteers who for six years have cut the grass and maintained the field at Michigan and Trumbull, assembled at “The Corner” and staged a symbolic “retirement” of the duo’s uniform numbers. Their uniforms were displayed at their respective positions near the second base bag. At the very spot where Tram and Lou played throughout their entire major league careers, stand-ins performed a symbolic double play to the delight of those in attendance. The short ceremony included a brief account of the pair’s playing career and reminiscences by several fans.
Among those in attendance was the legendary “Lady in Blue,” super-fan Karen Elizabeth Bush. She made the suggestion that Trammell and Whitaker should be jointly inducted into Cooperstown, a sentiment suggested here on this blog as well. This is Trammell’s last year on the ballot, and, barring a mass epiphany by Hall voters, he’ll fall short again. So it’s on to the Veterans’ Committee. Putting the pair into the Hall together—just as retiring their numbers together—makes perfect sense.
From the start of their careers in the minor leagues, Lou and Tram were joined at the hip. They both debuted as Tigers on the same day, Sept. 9, 1977. Whitaker retired after the 1995 season; Trammell played in 1996. Neither ever played for any other team. That matched longevity has not been duplicated by any other tandem of teammates in MLB history. No pair of players on any team comes close to their eighteen full seasons together. They played their final games together at the tail end of the ’95 campaign, when Sparky Anderson was also ending his tenure as Tiger skipper.
Although they were entirely distinct players in style, substance, and personality, their career statistics are almost eerily similar. Their career WARs rank fourth and fifth among all Tigers; so do their at-bats and plate appearances. In runs scored they are fourth and sixth on the all-time Tiger leaderboards; in hits sixth and seventh; in total bases fifth and seventh; in doubles fifth and sixth; in RBIs eighth and tenth. They are statistical twins. Their career slash lines are .276/.363/.426 and .285/.352/.415. Which is which? Answer: Lou walked more and had slightly more power; Tram had a slightly better batting average.
Retiring their numbers in a single ceremony, as the Navin Field Grounds Crew did, is appropriate. Putting them as a pair into Cooperstown would be wonderfully fitting. The Hall of Fame should find a way to make that happen as soon as it can. Detroit fans were lucky to witness them making history together. It’s time their achievements were recognized beyond Michigan.