DETROIT -- Alan Trammell will spend the weekend with kids at a baseball camp he runs with Lance Parrish, but his mind will be on another longtime teammate, Lou Whitaker.
“I’ve got my fingers crossed,” Trammell said. “I’m hoping.”
It’s fitting, because the way Whitaker played the game is the way Trammell teaches the game, from school-age kids this weekend to Tigers infield prospects come Spring Training.
In many ways, Trammell appears more excited and nervous about Whitaker’s chance for induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame than he was for his own consideration two years ago. Trammell was running his camp that weekend as well while the Modern Era Committee considered the ballot. His flight to the Winter Meetings had just landed when he received the call that he had been voted in.
“I really didn’t expect it,” Trammell said. “I wasn’t prepared. I didn’t bring the clothes. I didn’t have a sportcoat. I was going to Orlando. We were sitting in rooms most of the day. …
“I just hope that phone call comes [for Whitaker]. It’s really hard to describe. For anybody who has gotten that phone call, it really is a 'wow' moment. You can use little adjectives and words, but there’s really nothing that you can say other than, 'Wow.' It’s just indescribable, really, that feeling. It’s hard to put it into a sentence when you get that call.”
When the Tigers honored Trammell and retired his number 3 in 2018, Trammell talked at length about wanting Whitaker to join him -- not just for the ceremony, which he did, but in the Hall. Whitaker was left off the Modern Era Committee ballot that year, while fellow Tigers Trammell and Jack Morris were on it.
Since then, Trammell has been Whitaker’s biggest campaigner. His success in many ways was their success. They were so intertwined over their 19 years as a double-play duo that it was difficult to consider one without the other.
“Tram and I met in 1976 in instructional baseball in Florida,” Whitaker told MLB Network Radio. “We played our Double-A season together, my first year as a second baseman. Tram and I worked hard those years. Tram and I put in a lot of time together. And then every year playing in the Major Leagues, we spent time working together, shortstop and second baseman, just to be able to be the best that we could be, to be able to make the plays when we needed to make the play.”
Though Whitaker had a quieter personality, Trammell said, they had the same competitiveness and desire to be the best at their position. At the same time, they had a willingness to sacrifice for the betterment of the team and for manager Sparky Anderson.
“Lou, for years being the leadoff hitter, really had the bat taken out of his hands,” Trammell said. “And I say that as a compliment to him, as Sparky believed that your job is that maybe you’ve got to take a pitch, because you’ve got to get on base. You might have to take a walk, or make the pitcher work a little bit. That’s kind of going against the grain a little bit now.”
While Whitaker started in every spot but cleanup in his career, 4,268 of his 9,967 plate appearances came from the top spot in the batting order. He actually had higher on-base and slugging percentages batting second, but he was Anderson’s preferred option up top.
“The name of the game is to win, right?” Whitaker said on MLB Network Radio. “My thing was to play the game hard, put everything I had on the field, play as a team, do whatever the manager asks of you, and we will be successful. Sparky had me do some things that were going to win ballgames, whether it was bunt a man over, do the things that it takes to win. My goal always was just to win: Play, have fun, win. And that’s what I did for 19 years.”
Unlike Trammell, who was on the Baseball Writers' Association of America ballot for the Hall of Fame for 15 years and never came particularly close, Whitaker was one and done, selected on just 2.9 percent of ballots cast for the 2001 election. That ballot included eight current Hall of Famers, including Morris. Fellow Modern Era Committee finalists Dave Parker, Dave Murphy, Steve Garvey, Don Mattingly and Tommy John were also on there.
Though Whitaker’s snub has been a sore subject for years among Tigers fans, it didn’t receive much national attention until the past couple of years, after the Hall of Fame revamped the veterans committee process to separate candidates into eras.
Trammell admits he didn’t put much hope into his own induction before then because the old format was so difficult. Now that he has seen the new setup at work, and seen the influence their peers on the committee carry, he’s more optimistic for Whitaker.
“Where has this love been all these years?” Trammell asked, half-jokingly. “I’m smiling and I’m thankful now that he’s being brought back into the picture. And so, we’ll see. I’m hoping it’s this year, but if not, just the fact that he’s getting talked about is huge, no doubt.”
Just like two years ago, Trammell will be on a plane when the results are announced Sunday at 8 p.m. ET on MLB Network. His flight from Detroit to San Diego for the Winter Meetings doesn’t take off until the evening. He’s hoping it’s a good-luck charm.
“Lou and Tram. I’m hoping,” he said. “It’s going to happen. It’s just a matter of when, and I’m hoping it’s this year.”