Make no doubt about it: I checked the box beside Ozzie Smith's name the only time it appeared on a Hall of Fame ballot.Smith earned his plaque in Cooperstown with his play on the field, and as a bonus, he's been a wonderful ambassador for the game in retirement. The
Make no doubt about it: I checked the box beside Ozzie Smith's name the only time it appeared on a Hall of Fame ballot.
Smith earned his plaque in Cooperstown with his play on the field, and as a bonus, he's been a wonderful ambassador for the game in retirement. The downside to what follows below is that it's going to be viewed as diminishing Smith's contributions, but that's not the purpose.
The purpose is just to publicly express a question that I've had for a long time, one I'd argue is especially relevant now because there's a chance for the Hall of Fame's latest iteration of the Veterans Committee -- the Modern Era Committee -- to put it out of my mind.
How could the Wizard of Oz get 91.7 percent of votes in his first year on the ballot and Alan Trammell never get 41 percent in 15 tries?
Their careers overlapped for 15 seasons in which both of them played at least 100 games, and it's my contention that in more than half of those Trammell would have been picked more often if you gave general managers and managers their choice of a shortstop around which to build a team.
Don't believe me? Then check how they were valued year by year in FanGraphs' WAR. Trammell gets an 8-7 edge, the same edge that Smith has over Trammell when you check baseball-reference.com's version of WAR. That's as close as it can get.
Smith, regarded as one of the best defensive shortstops ever, won 13 Gold Gloves. Trammell won four, so we'll stipulate that Ozzie's fielding gave his teams in San Diego and St. Louis an edge. There is something of an apples-to-oranges component that impacts a comparison between them.
But Trammell was a run-producing hitter and anything but a defensive liability -- he actually ranked ahead of Ozzie in Total Zone Rating three times between 1978 and '84 -- and the two-way contributions were huge for his teams in Detroit. He was a World Series MVP the one year his Tigers won the pennant.
Let's go year by year and compare the two, beginning in 1978. Smith was 23 and made his Major League debut on Opening Day; Trammell was in his age-20 season and had made his debut as a 19-year-old the previous September.
1978 -- Advantage: Ozzie. Neither really foreshadowed the greatness that was to come, but Ozzie played 20 more games (159 to 139) and finished second to Bob Horner in National League Rookie of the Year voting.
1979 -- Advantage: Tram. He hit .276 while Ozzie hit .211. This trend played out throughout their careers, with Trammell hitting 23 points higher than Smith (.285 to .262).
1980 -- Advantage: Tram. Trammell hit .300, earning MVP votes for the first time, while they both won their first Gold Gloves.
1981 -- Advantage: Ozzie. You'd score this one for Trammell using WAR, but Smith played every game in the strike-shortened season and Trammell hit only .258 with two home runs, an off season for him at the plate.
1982 -- Advantage: Tram. WAR actually gives this year to Smith, who was in his first year with the Cardinals, but it's only the second year Trammell had an OPS above .700, hinting at the major uptick that was forthcoming.
1983 -- Advantage: Tram. He hit .319 with 14 home runs and an .856 OPS, becoming a 6-WAR player.
1984 -- Advantage: Tram. Another big year at the plate for Trammell on the Bless You Boys championship team. As a bonus, Total Zone Rating (the best metric of that era for fielding) listed Cal Ripken Jr. first, Trammell second and Smith third.
1985 -- Advantage: Ozzie. This was the Cardinals' year, and Smith had his best year yet at the plate. He hit .276, walked 65 times and struck out only 27 times.
1986 -- Advantage: Tram. Trammell logged a 20-20 campaign, with 21 home runs and 25 stolen bases.
1987 -- Advantage: Tram. Trammell delivered his career year at the plate, hitting .343 with 28 homers and a .953 OPS. He was a close second to George Bell in American League MVP voting. Smith also finished second in NL MVP voting, thanks to his breakout year at the plate (.303 with a .392 on-base percentage and 43 stolen bases).
1988 -- Advantage: Tram. WAR gives this to Ozzie, but I can't ignore Trammell's .311 average, .836 OPS and 138 OPS+. He was a more dangerous bat, the common theme throughout their careers.
1989 -- Advantage: Ozzie. As he headed into his mid-30s, Smith maintained his effectiveness at the plate. Trammell fell off markedly, hitting only five homers in 506 plate appearances.
1990 -- Advantage: Tram. Something clicked and he hit .304 with 14 homers. He compiled 89 RBIs by hitting .377 with runners in scoring position.
1991 -- Advantage: Ozzie. Based on OPS+, this was the best year of Smith's career at the plate. He slashed .285/.380/.367 while playing 150 games. He was still winning the Gold Glove every year.
1993 -- Advantage: Tram. Limited to 29 games the year before because of a broken ankle, Trammell bounced back to hit .329 as a 35-year-old. He had his last double-digit homer season (12) and registered as many walks as strikeouts (38 apiece) for the 10th time in his career.
So that's 10-5, Tram, on my scorecard.
Here's hoping that the Modern Era Committee also sees Trammell as deserving of baseball's ultimate honor. It's time to solve the puzzle of why he gets so little historic love.
Phil Rogers is a columnist for MLB.com.