DETROIT -- The wait to immortalize Lou Whitaker’s No. 1 finally ends this summer. The Tigers announced on Tuesday that Whitaker’s jersey number will be retired in a ceremony at Comerica Park on Saturday, Aug. 6, prior to their 6:10 p.m. ET game against the Rays.
It’s an event that has required an abundance of patience -- first to see if Whitaker would be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, then for the COVID pandemic and related restrictions to allow everyone to gather for a celebration.
The Tigers originally announced their intention to retire Whitaker’s number on Dec. 17, 2019, a week after the Hall of Fame’s 16-member Modern Era Committee -- a group that included several Hall of Famers from Whitaker’s era -- did not garner enough votes to induct him. It was Whitaker’s first chance on the Modern Era ballot after he had been left off the ballot a couple years earlier, when teammates Alan Trammell and Jack Morris were inducted.
Whitaker’s next chance at the Hall will be when the Modern Era is up for consideration again in two years. The Tigers, who made a public push for Whitaker, made a statement by declaring their plan to retire Whitaker’s number and put it on the brick wall at Comerica Park with Trammell, Morris, Charlie Gehringer, Hank Greenberg, Al Kaline, Sparky Anderson, Hal Newhouser, Willie Horton and Jackie Robinson.
“What a thrill it was to watch Lou Whitaker grace the diamond for nearly two decades -- a gifted talent in this glorious game. Without question, ‘Sweet Lou’ is one of the greatest players to ever wear the Olde English 'D'. His hustle. His grit. His dedication,” Tigers chairman/CEO Christopher Ilitch said in a statement a couple years ago.
Whitaker will join Horton as the only Tigers with retired numbers who aren’t in the Hall of Fame, but it’s less rare around baseball. Among those on other clubs are former Royals second baseman Frank White, former Twins slugger Kent Hrbek, former Reds shortstop Dave Concepcion and former Yankees greats Don Mattingly, Andy Pettitte, Bernie Williams and Jorge Posada. Mattingly, Steve Garvey, Thurman Munson and Dale Murphy all have their numbers retired, and all joined Whitaker on the last Modern Era ballot.
The Tigers originally scheduled Whitaker’s ceremony for the summer of 2020, but postponed it when the COVID-19 pandemic led to an abbreviated season without fans in the stands. The uncertainty of fan attendance for the 2021 season, which began with limited capacity and on-field access due to the continuing pandemic, prompted the Tigers to wait another year.
With the ability to plan for a full house and have former teammates attend, now is the time.
“It brings a smile to my face to be able to finally see Lou Whitaker get some of the recognition that he deserves,” teammate Lance Parrish said in a video released by the Tigers. “One of the great things about Lou is seeing Lou’s face light up with a big smile, and I’m looking forward to seeing that happen on the day they retire his jersey.”
The Tigers are offering a Double Play Deal ticket package, which includes a ticket to the Aug. 6 ceremony and ensuing game, plus a guarantee to receive Whitaker replica 1984 road jersey being given away to fans that day. The package also includes a ticket to the Tigers’ scheduled home opener on Friday, April 8, against the AL Central champion White Sox. The ticket package starts at $65 and is available while supplies last at tigers.com/doubleplay.
Whitaker was one of the greatest second basemen of his era, earning five All-Star selections, four Silver Slugger awards and three Gold Gloves. His 75.1 bWAR ranks 80th on MLB’s all-time list, according to Baseball Reference, and 52nd among position players. Among hitters currently eligible for the Hall of Fame, only Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez and Bill Dahlen have a higher WAR without having been inducted.
To see Whitaker and Trammell with the numbers together will be fitting. The duo set an American League record with 1,918 games played together as teammates, from their Major League debut together on Sept. 9, 1977, to Whitaker’s final season in 1995. Whitaker’s 1,527 double plays turned mark the most ever by a Tiger and rank fourth all time for Major League second basemen; six of the top eight are in the Hall of Fame. Trammell has been Whitaker’s staunchest advocate for Cooperstown since his own induction four years ago.
“The fact that Lou and Tram will always be linked together on the outfield wall at Comerica Park makes me very proud, and is something that neither of us could have dreamt of when entering this organization over 40 years ago,” Trammell said a few years ago. “It means everything to me that the Nos. 1 and 3 will be retired together.”