Trammell one of the best players not in the Hall of Fame

2013 marks the 12th time that Alan Trammell’s name has been on the Baseball Hall of Fame ballot.

In 2001, The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract rated Alan Trammell as the ninth best shortstop of all time, ahead of 14 Hall of Fame shortstops. Yet Trammell remains, more than a decade after becoming eligible for the Hall of Fame, on the outside looking in. Interestingly, his candidacy has picked up increasing support from the SABRmetric community; although at 36.8% supprt from the baseball writers, he’s still far short of being elected.

On Wednesday, the National Baseball Hall of Fame will announce the results of their 2013 ballot, with Trammell once again among the candidates.

It’s been argued that Trammell’s numbers aren’t Hall of Fame worthy. After all, he hit only .285 over a 19-year big league career, amassing 185 home runs and 2,365 hits.

Sometimes career statistics can be misleading.

Consider that in 1984, the season Detroit started a major league record best 35-5, Trammell battled tendinitis to finish fifth in the American League batting race, with a .314 batting average. In the American League Championship Series against the Kansas City Royals, he hit .364 with one home run and three RBI; while in the World Series, he went 9-for-20 against the San Diego Padres, including a pair of two-run homers that accounted for all of the Tigers’ runs in a Game Four win. Trammell was named World Series Most Valuable Player.

“He’s the best shortstop in the game,” manager Sparky Anderson glowed. “I wouldn’t take any man over him.”

In 1985, Trammell became only the second player in Detroit history to hit 20 home runs and steal 20 bases. Kirk Gibson, Trammell’s teammate during those years, was the other. Curtis Granderson has since become the third.

For the 1987 campaign, Sparky Anderson moved Tram to the cleanup position, and he responded with his best season. For September, he batted .416, clubbing six big flies and pushing across 17 runners, putting together an 18-game hitting streak during which he hit .457, while helping Detroit to the AL East title, won on the final day of the season.

Oh, and he became the first Tiger to collect 200 hits and 100 RBI in the same season since Al Kaline did it 32 years earlier.

He also appeared among the league leaders in most AL offensive categories for 1987: third in batting average (.343), tenth in RBI (105), third in hits (205), tied for fifth in runs (109), fourth in total bases (329), fifth in on base percentage (.402), eighth in slugging percentage (.551), and tied for fifth in game-winning RBI (16).

Despite those numbers, Trammell finished second to Toronto’s George Bell in the MVP voting (332-311), in one of the most head-scratching results in the history of that award. After the season finale, double play mate Lou Whitaker gave him second base, with the inscription: To Alan Trammell, 1987 AL MVP. From Lou Whitaker.

Trammell was a six-time All Star, four-time Gold Glove winner (twice with Whitaker), three-time Top 10 MVP, twice had hitting streaks of more than 20 games, twice appeared on The Sporting News AL Silver Slugger Team, and, with Whitaker, holds the AL record for number of games played together (1,918). They still hold the major league record for turning more double plays than any other shortstop-second-baseman combination in the history of baseball.

Which brings up a compelling argument: why not enshrine both Trammell and Whitaker as a tandem? It’s not like it hasn’t been done before. Consider Baseball’s Sad Lexicon:

These are the saddest of possible words:
“Tinker to Evers to Chance.”
Trio of bear cubs, and fleeter than birds,
Tinker and Evers and Chance.
Ruthlessly pricking our gonfalon bubble,
Making a Giant hit in a double—
Words that are heavy with nothing but trouble:
“Tinker to Evers to Chance.”

Written by Franklin Pierce Adams from the perspective of a Giants’ fan, and first published in the New York Evening Mail in the early part of the 20th century, Adams’ ditty references the Chicago Cubs’ infield of shortstop Joe Tinker, second-baseman Johnny Evers, and first-baseman Frank Chance.

If one looks at their career statistics, one can only conclude that this trio of bear cubs made it into the Hall of Fame in large part as the result of Adams’ poem.

Lou Whitaker batted .276, hit 244 career home runs, and amassed 2,369 hits, prompting ESPN analyst Jayson Stark to write, in 2003: “His career numbers look attractive by second-base standards. But it’s hard to remember any period when (Lou) Whitaker was looked upon as the greatest second baseman of his era. Just a very good player. There’s no shame in that.”

The greater shame is that Trammell and Whitaker continue to be ignored as the greatest keystone combination to ever play. Even Cal Ripken, Jr., who knows a thing or two about playing shortstop, said a few years ago that Whitaker and Trammell deserve to be in the Hall Fame, inducted together.

Tram and Sweet Lou came up together in late 1977. In 1979, when Hall of Fame manager Sparky Anderson took over as manager of the Tigers, he called them lightweights and didn’t expect them to last long in the major leagues. But all they did for the next 18 years was hit, field, turn more double plays than any other shortstop/second-base combo in the history of the game, and, oh, yes, hit some more.

Whitaker won Rookie of the Year honors in 1978, batting .285, with 71 runs, and achieving a .361 on-base percentage.

In his best season, 1983, he hit .320, with 12 home runs, 72 runs batted in, and 94 runs, also appearing in his first of five consecutive All Star games.

Two years later, Whitaker set a record for Detroit second basemen with 21 home runs. The following season, he was a member of a Tigers infield in which every member hit at least 20 homers.

He hit a career-best 28 homers in 1989, one of four times he reached the 20-plus plateau.

In 1992, Whitaker reached two career milestones: his 2,000th hit and his 200th home run. He is ranked in the top three all-time among second basemen in games played, total bases, and runs scored.

Whitaker is also only one of a select handful of players to ever hit a ball over the roof of old Tiger Stadium and, until Granderson hit his 20th, held the Tigers record for most career home runs from the leadoff spot.

It’s a travesty that Whitaker did not receive the necessary five percent of the votes in his first year of eligibility in 2001, and therefore will not be eligible again until 2015 from a veterans committee.

So why do Trammell and Whitaker continue to be ignored?

Perhaps because they both played in a less popular baseball market and neither played their position in spectacular fashion. Trammell didn’t have a particularly strong arm, but he had range, soft hands, and made accurate throws. Both went about their games in workmanlike fashion, which, in a blue collar town like Detroit, the fans love.

So you’re a diehard Tigers fan, always have been, always will be. You loved For Love of the Game, and you feel connected to Tom Selleck even though you’ve never met. Maybe, after watching these two kids play their entire careers in Detroit, you’re sentimental. Maybe you’re not the guy to pen a logical argument to get these two into the Hall of Fame.

But I’d say Cal Ripken, Jr. just might be.