It was a great pleasure to listen to Alan Trammell on Saturday. He was the keynote speaker at the annual gathering of the Mayo Smith Society, which is held every year around this time in Detroit.
The Society, which boasts members from all over the world, is made up of Tiger fans who love their team. It was named, of course, after Mayo Smith, the manager of the champion 1968 Detroit Tigers.
Once again, the gathering was held at the Hockeytown Café, across the street from Comerica Park. Also speaking were Charles Leerhsen, the author of the fine new book, Ty Cobb: A Terrible Beauty, along with yours truly, discussing the SABR book Detroit the Unconquerable: The 1935 World Champion Tigers, which I edited.
Trammell was gracious enough to take time out of his busy schedule to regale the crowd of over 100 people with his Tiger tales. He reminded us that it has been nearly two decades since he retired from the game, which made a lot of folks in the room feel old, especially the ones who grew up watching him spray line drives around the Tiger Stadium field. He still looks great at 57, fit as a fiddle, and while he joked that his arm is still pretty strong, his range at shortstop is “severely limited.”
The former Tiger is an engaging speaker. He hit on a bunch of topics, bouncing around seamlessly from one to the other, just as easy as he used to toss baseballs around the diamond. His job these days is as a special assistant to General Manager Dave Dombrowski.
Trammell talked about the recent baseball draft, and in particular Beau Burrows, the Tigers’ first round pick (22nd overall). Burrows, who hails from Texas, is a right-handed pitcher whom the organization has high hopes for.
Of course, the Tigers also drafted Cam Gibson. The son of Trammell’s former Tiger teammate Kirk Gibson, Cam has all the tools. Trammell pointed out that, although Cam went in the fifth round, that doesn’t mean he isn’t highly regarded.
“There was a guy in 1975,” Trammell said, “who was drafted by the Tigers in the fifth round. You may have heard of him. His name was Lou Whitaker. And in 1976, the Tigers selected a guy in the fifth round, by the name of Jack Morris.”
Indeed, point well taken. The major league baseball draft is an unpredictable business.
To nobody’s surprise, Trammell said that Sparky Anderson was like “a second father” to him. Trammell was only 21 years old when Sparky took over as manager of the Tigers in 1979. All told, Trammell played under only three skippers in his long career. The first was Ralph Houk, the second was Sparky, and the last was Buddy Bell in Trammell’s final season in 1996.
“I never went to college, but I was street smart,” Trammell said. “Sparky taught me how to be a major league player.”
A young fan in the audience asked Trammell what his biggest accomplishment was in baseball. Trammell chuckled a bit. “When you play for as long as I did, you have a lot of them.” But he cited the 1984 World Series as his finest moment. He mentioned his two home runs in Game Four, and Gibson’s iconic blast off of Goose Gossage in Game Five. “Jack Morris won two games in that Series,” he remembered. “He’s a guy who, by the way, should be in the Hall of Fame.”
Another fan asked Trammell about Jose Iglesias. Trammell gushed about the young Cuban shortstop, saying that Tiger fans are lucky because they’ll be able to enjoy him for years to come. “He’s a great fielder, as we all know, but he’s a pretty darn good hitter, as well. He’s not going to hit .330 all season, but he has a short, quick stroke.”
Trammell also broached the topic of the 1987 Tigers, a team which, “started slow, but wound up winning the most games in baseball.” We all know what happened with that team, however. They got trounced by the upstart Minnesota Twins in the American League Championship Series. “Fans often ask me if I was ever in a pennant race,” Trammell said. “And I reply, ‘heck yeah, I was.’ Those last two weeks of 1987 were just phenomenal, with us going neck and neck with Toronto.”
In the eyes of many Tiger fans (and unbiased observers, as well), Trammell should have won the Most Valuable Player award in 1987. Instead, it went to George Bell of the Blue Jays. Following the season, Sparky told Trammell that the loss of the MVP trophy would cost the shortsop a chance at the Hall of Fame. At the time, Trammell didn’t think Sparky was being too serious, and he just shrugged the comment off. “Hey, I was only 29. I said to Sparky that I had a lot of years left, and there’d be other chances for MVP awards.”
Sparky may have been a prophet, however. Certainly, had Trammell won the award over Bell, his Hall of Fame cred would be boosted.
How does Trammell view his chances of being inducted into Cooperstown?
He admits that he would cherish the honor if it ever were to happen. But he made it clear that he wanted to go in along with his long-time double-play partner, Lou Whitaker.
That brought a hearty round of applause from the crowd.
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