For 19 seasons (1977-95), Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker played together on the corner of Michigan and Trumbull, forming the longest double-play tandem in Major League Baseball history.
The talented duo helped lead the Detroit Tigers to the second-most wins in Major League Baseball during the 1980s with 839 victories. Only the Yankees finished with more wins than the Tigs during the decade.
Additionally, the Tigers finished with the top record in baseball in 1984, compiling a franchise-record 104 victories and only 58 losses. They were the best team from game one of the regular season to the last out of the 1984 World Series against the San Diego Padres.
It was a season for the record books with an MLB-best 35-5 start to the campaign, and “Tram,” for one, did more than his fair share to ensure that the highly memorable season was capped off with a World Series championship.
Trammell was the top Tiger several times
Tram hit above .350 and recorded an on-base plus slugging north of 1,000 in both the ’84 American League Championship Series against the Kansas City Royals — a three-game sweep for the Tigers — and in the ’84 Fall Classic, which ended in five games. For his efforts, Tram was named the World Series Most Valuable Player.
That concluded a great overall campaign for the Detroit shortstop, as he also recorded the highest wins above replacement mark on the club during the regular season (6.7), according to Baseball Reference.
Fast forward three years and he led the club in WAR again, and this time, he amassed a career-high mark of 8.2, which placed him third among both position players in baseball. Among position players, only Hall of Famers Tony Gwynn of the Padres and Wade Boggs of the Boston Red Sox recorded higher WARs in 1987. Then-Red Sox ace Roger Clemens recorded the highest WAR in all of baseball for the ’87 campaign with 9.5 wins above replacement.
With Tram’s ’84 and ’87 campaigns taken into account, he effectively became the best player on Motown’s two AL East division-winning clubs during the ’80s.
Based on WAR, the six-time All-Star also finished as the club’s best player four other times (1980, 1986, 1988 and 1990).
Also, outside of Tram’s six finishes atop the organization in WAR, he finished among the club’s top five players in WAR five additional times (1981, 1982, 1983, 1989 and 1993).
Furthermore, from 1978-91 and in 1993, when he played in 100-plus games per season, he failed to finish among the club’s top five players in WAR only four times.
However, was his career better than the one of his double-player partner “Sweet Lou?”
I know that’s believed to be true by a large sect of Tigers fans. However, I’m going to make the case for why Tram’s career with Detroit might not have been better than Whitaker’s.
Was Whitaker more valuable than Trammell?
First and foremost, when looking at Whitaker, one must seriously take into account the fact that he finished in the top five in WAR among Detroit players in 16 of his 19 major league seasons. He finished among the club’s top five players in the statistic from 1978-79, 1981-86 and from 1988-95.
One must also remember that one of the years in which he didn’t record a top five WAR among Tigers players was in 1977, in which he only played 11 games.
Then, there’s the fact that from 1978-93, when Sweet Lou played in 100-plus games per season, he didn’t finish among the Tigers’ top five players for WAR only twice (’80 and ’87).
And in five of the 16 seasons that Whitaker finished in the top five in WAR on the Tigers, he also finished as the club’s No. 1 player in terms of WAR (’81, ’82, ’83, ’89 and 1991).
So, yes, if you’re keeping track at home, that’s one less season of Sweet Lou finishing first in WAR for Detroit than Tram.
However, the biggest reason why Whitaker might have had the better career than Tram hasn’t even been revealed yet.
I’m talking about the career WAR recorded by Whitaker.
By the end of his career, which came to a wrap in 1995, the five-time All-Star second baseman had recorded 74.9 wins above replacement.
In contrast, Tram had recorded 70.4 wins above replacement by the time he hung up the cleats at the end of the 1996 campaign.
Are the stats above enough to convince you that Whitaker had a better career than Tram?
Maybe, maybe not.
But even if you don’t think Whitaker had the better career, it shows you at least how comparable his and Tram’s careers were and how each player deserved to receive Hall of Fame consideration.
Why aren’t Trammell and Whitaker in the Hall of Fame?
Tram did receive consideration for the Hall of Fame, staying on the HOF ballot for all 15 years of eligibility, despite not gaining entry into the Hall. Note: Although retired players today only receive 10 years of eligibility due to a rule passed by the Hall in 2014, Tram had already been on the ballot for more than 10 years, so he was “grandfathered” in.
Whitaker, though, stayed on the ballot for only one year, after failing to receive a high enough percentage to stay on the ballot. He received 2.9% of the vote in 2001, with 5% needed to stay on the ballot.
Can you say travesty? I sure will.
I love Tram, but if those who argue that he belongs in the Hall are right, Whitaker should’ve at least stayed on the ballot until his eligibility ran out.
They each had tremendous careers, and their contributions on the corner of Michigan and Trumbull will never be forgotten as a result.
And just in case you need to be reminded of how great a tandem they formed at second and short, just remember this: either Whitaker or Tram was No. 1 on the Tigers in WAR from 1980-84 and then again from 1986-91.
It’s one of the many reasons why I have no problem calling Sweet Lou and Tram the best double-play tandem in baseball history.