Ozzie Smith to Detroit? It almost happened

In 1976 Draft, Tigers nearly signed three future Hall of Famers

May 29th, 2018

DETROIT -- Alan Trammell and Jack Morris will go into the Hall of Fame in July as teammates. Not only did they wear the Olde English D of the Tigers together for 14 seasons, they were part of the same Tigers Draft class, picked in the second and fifth rounds of the 1976 Draft.
There's already a Hall of Famer from the Tigers' Draft class that year, and there has been for years.
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"If you want to go back to '76, you talk about Dan [Petry], Jack and myself," Trammell said, "and then oh, another Hall of Famer, Ozzie Smith."
But Smith never put on a Tigers cap or uniform. The prospect of what the Tigers might have looked like if he had is intriguing.
"We've never talked about it," Trammell said. "I think I probably had seen that years and years ago, but then as the years passed by, I actually forgot," Trammell admits. "Something brought it to my attention, you look it up and lo and behold, that's a fact."
It could be a fun topic of conversation in Cooperstown.
Plenty of future greats have turned down late-round Draft picks from clubs to either go to college or stay there another year. The Tigers, for instance, used their 55th-round pick in 1995 -- back when there were more than 40 rounds -- on high-school lefty Mark Mulder, who opted to go to Michigan State instead.
Who's on the Tigers' radar for the No. 1 pick?
Ozzie Smith wasn't that type of long-shot pick. He was in college at the time at Cal Poly, where he blossomed at shortstop his junior season. The scout who eyed Smith, Dick Wiencik, was the same scout who saw Trammell and Morris going into the Draft.
Smith has told different reporters over the years that he had promised his mother that he would complete his education, and he'd told himself that if he didn't receive a certain bonus, he probably wouldn't pass up his senior year of college. Smith has put the number at $10,000 and he said the Tigers offered $8,500.
The late Bill Lajoie, the Tigers' scouting director at the time, had different numbers but the same idea. Lajoie wrote in his book with Anup Sinha that he was willing to meet Smith's asking price but was overruled by general manager Jim Campbell. Smith went back to Cal Poly, and he moved up the Draft board. The Padres selected him in the fourth round of the 1977 Draft, signing him for a $5,000 bonus.
Trammell made his Major League debut in Tiger Stadium on Sept. 9, 1977, having played in 196 Minor League games, as the Tigers embarked on a full-on youth movement. Smith debuted for the Padres on Opening Day of the 1978 season after playing in 68 games for Walla Walla of the Class A Northwest League in 1977.

Along the way, Trammell found a double-play partner in Lou Whitaker, who began his pro career at third base before converting to second to play alongside Trammell at Double-A Montgomery in 1977.
Had Smith become a Tiger, would Whitaker still have moved to second? Would Smith have moved to second and Whitaker stayed at third? Would Trammell have moved?
"I look at it more as it worked out the best for both of us, and I had my partner, Lou Whitaker," Trammell said. "That's how I've always felt, and we've been linked together, as we should be. It was a combination of Lou and Tram. It's kind of nice to tell the story of how we were both drafted the same year by the Tigers. It's a pretty cool fact."