In his fourteenth year of eligibility, Alan Trammell again failed to get an invitation to Cooperstown.
Last year, as all the hoopla about Derek Jeter swirled with the interminable farewell tour for the overrated Yankee star, I had to wonder what level of adulation Trammell and his twenty-year double-play partner Lou Whitaker would have gotten had they played in New York. Wouldn’t they be in the Hall of Fame by now?
Certainly Sweet Lou would never have been eliminated in his first year of eligibility when he received less than the required 5% of the vote from the Baseball Writers Association of America—an enormous travesty. According to Baseball Reference, Whitaker’s career stats were most comparable to, in order, Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg, his teammate Trammell, and Hall of Famer Roberto Alomar.
Trammell still has one more year of eligibility, but support for his candidacy is way below what’s needed. It reached a peak of 36.8% in 2012—still less than half the 75 percent required for induction—and has declined considerably since then.
He, like Whitaker, will have to wait for consideration by some future veterans’ committee. And that’s a shame. Trammell played excellent and consistent defense, and his career WAR of 70.4 is a shade above Barry Larkin’s 70.2. According to Baseball Reference, the player Larkin is most similar to statistically is Trammell.
Trammell’s exclusion follows the failure of the candidacy of Jack Morris, who dropped off the ballot after last year; he got as close as 67.7 percent in 2013. The rap against Morris was based on his ERA of 3.90 and other more sophisticated metrics; the arguments in favor were based on his durability and his ability to win games. Anyone who saw him play knows Morris “pitched to the score” and didn’t mind daring batters to hit one out of the park with a big lead, and that ended up counting against him, because most of the writers voting weren’t closely following the Tigers.
Want another overlooked Tiger? Mickey Lolich. Not all of his numbers aren gaudy, but the player he is most statistically similar to is Jim Bunning.
Playing in Detroit doesn’t make it easy to get to Cooperstown. Al Kaline is the only Tiger playing in the past 45 years who the writers have elected to the Hall (not counting Eddie Mathews, who played in Detroit in 1967 and 1968 at the end of his career). Even Bunning was not enshrined until the veterans committee elected him in 1996. George Kell was also elected by the veterans committee in 1983 and Hal Newhouser earned election via the same route in 1992.
Four Tigers in 45 years. How many Yankees? Fourteen who have played since WWII: Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, Enos Slaughter, Phil Rizutto, and Red Ruffing from mid-twentieth century. Plus Catfish Hunter, Goose Gossage, Reggie Jackson, Dave Winfield, Rickey Henderson, Gaylord Perry, Phil Niekro, and Wade Boggs from the latter part of the century.
Years ago, Bill James devised a “Hall of Fame Standards” scoring system that is a rough measure of which players were most likely to earn election to Cooperstown based on the statistics and awards that voters seem to place the most emphasis on. The average Hall of Famer gets a score of 50. There is no question that Mantle, Boggs, Winfield, Perry, Ford, Niekro, Jackson, and Henderson belong. But, according to the James standard, Whitaker, Trammell, Darrell Evans, Morris, and Lolich had careers roughly comparable to Hunter, Slaughter, Berra, and Ruffing—that is, they are all borderline Hall of Famers. And if Rizutto (who scores 23) belongs in Cooperstown, so do Willie Horton, Dick McAuliffe, Brad Ausmus, John Stone, Travis Fryman, Rudy York, Mickey Tettleton, Bill Freehan, Norm Cash, Rocky Colavito, Lance Parrish, Tony Phillips, and Bobby Veach—whose Hall of Fame Standards scores ascend from 23 to 32. Bill Donovan, Hooks Dauss, Tommy Bridges, Virgil Trucks, and a host of other Tiger pitchers score far higher than Gossage’s 18. Goose and Scooter being in Cooperstown is ridiculous.
Of course, those Yankees played in many World Series. But that’s not a function of individual greatness, just of being on a great team. Sportswriters like to write about famous people, so they concentrate on World Series players and New York stars—and overlook equally good athletes elsewhere.
And that is one reason why sportswriters should not determine who gets into the Hall of Fame.
By the way, if I’d had a vote, my ballot would have had the maximum ten allowable selections: Jeff Bagwell, Barry Bonds, Craig Biggio, Roger Clemens, Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson, Tim Raines, Mike Piazza, Alan Trammell, and Larry Walker. In my opinion Bonds and Clemens were already Hall of Famers before they started taking steroids—and Bagwell and Piazza were not proven users. And though Bonds, especially, flunks the “character and integrity” test, so do many Hall of Famers, from Ty Cobb to Cap Anson to Bud Selig, who surely will be enshrined in Cooperstown some day (I have already prepared a barf bag for the occasion). Selig stood by and watched the PED travesty happen, encouraging it by his silent acquiescence, along with most other owners, players, managers, and fans during the late 1990s and early 2000s. Only the willfully blind could miss what was happening. It’s time to shed the hypocrisy and induct the deserving players from the Steroid Era—even those who were not Yankees.