There were several reasons the Detroit Tigers failed to repeat as world champions in 1985:
- The bench, which had an incredible season in ’84, basically collapsed, contributing to a 100-run drop in offense
- Injuries and ineffectiveness in the bullpen cost the team greatly – they lost 13 more one-run games than the previous year
- Production at third base dropped with the trade of Howard Johnson to the Mets
But there was another key reason the Tigers failed to win their division and defend their pennant: Alan Trammell suffered a serious injury to his shoulder that hampered his play most of the year. Though the All-Star shortstop bravely tried to play through the pain (like Miguel Cabrera in the last few months of the ’13 season), Trammell was not himself. He batted almost 50 points below his mark in ’84, and most importantly, the injury, which was to his right (throwing shoulder) altered Tram’s play in the field and drastically reduced his ability to drive the ball at the plate. In ’84, Trammell had 53 extra-base hits and a .468 slugging percentage; in ’85 he had 42 XBH and a .380 slugging percentage. Seeing as he was hitting second in the lineup behind Lou Whitaker, and in front of Kirk Gibson and Lance Parrish (all of whom had equal or better seasons that they did in ’84), it was a blow to the Bengal offense. Detroit limped to a 84-77 record, winning 20 fewer games than in 1984, finishing in third.
For Trammell, it was more than just a team disappointment – it cast a cloud over the future of his career. As a middle infielder he needed a strong throwing shoulder, and as one of baseball’s best-hitting shortstops, he was expected to get on base and drive in runs too. he had already hit over .300 three times in his eight-year career and his power was increasing. But the shoulder injury, which occurred in late June, threw Trammell into uncertainty.
“With the shoulder injury, I know [Trammell] was worried about his play,” manager Sparky Anderson said. Though the Tigers never placed Trammell on the disabled list in ’85, he missed 10-12 games in the middle of the summer, and even when he returned he wasn’t himself. He hit .275 in the first half of the season, but only .239 with very little power in the second half. Detroit was just 3 1/2 games behind the Blue Jays at the All-Star break, but 15 games into the second half, they were floundering, 10 games out.
The Tigers and Trammell never got back to the World Series again, but the shortstop had a watershed season in 1986, overcoming the shoulder problems. For Trammell, there was no surgery, but he did mend with rest during the off-season, and he also learned to play with a shoulder that would never be as strong as it once had been. It was an adjustment, but one Trammell was able to make.
“My defense is what got me to the majors,” Trammell told The Sporting News years later. “A lot of people back then [when he debuted in ’77] thought I’d be all field and no hit, or very little hit.” Ironically, the shoulder injury helped Trammell focus mentally on the offensive part of his game even more. In the field he would use good positioning to offset the weaker wing, but at the plate he was pain free in 1986, though it took some time for him to get going (he hit .259 in the first half in ’86 and .298 with 14 homers in the second half). Trammell hit a career high 21 homers that season and drove in 75 runs, his highest total yet.
His revival at the plate rolled into ’87 when he had an amazing season, one of the best ever by a shortstop. Trammell hit .333 in April, .330 in May, and .376 in June. In September/October as the Tigers were battling Toronto for the division lead, he was a beast – batting .417 with seven homers and 20 RBI in 33 games. His slugging percentage over the last five weeks of the ’87 was .677 and he posted an on-base percentage of .490. Batting cleanup after the loss of Lance Parrish to free agency, Trammell’s efforts (.343 with 28 homers and 114 RBI) led the Tigers overtaking the Jays in dramatic fashion in the final weekend of the season. Somehow, the baseball writers voted George Bell the MVP in one of the stupidest decisions in award history, but it didn’t matter.
“I’ve never seen a player who pushes himself to reach higher plateaus than he does,” teammate Darrell Evans observed, “as far as I’m concerned, he was the American League’s MVP.”
Predictably, Sparky sang his praises: “There isn’t anything he can’t do on a baseball field. When you’re talking about today’s best players, he has to be included.”
From that point on, Trammell was included: as one of the 2-3 best shortstops in baseball; as one of the better middle of the lineup hitters in the game; and as one of the league’s best overall players. He was an All-Star in ’87, ’88, and ’90, when he hit over .300 with good power every season. After an injury that might have ended another player’s career, Trammell played 11 more seasons, won three Silver Slugger Awards, and got MVP votes in three different seasons. He ended up playing 20 years, all in a Detroit Tigers’ uniform, earning his place as the best shortstop in franchise history. He and Lou Whitaker set a record for most games played together as teammates. Trammell became just the second player to spend his entire career with Detroit and play at least two decades (the other is Al Kaline). If Kaline earned the nickname “Mr. Tiger,” then Trammell was surely “Kid Tiger.”
The arc of Alan Trammell’s career wasn’t just about tremendous natural ability and dramatic moments, it was also one of overcoming adversity and making adjustments for himself and for the team.