Tigers once drafted 3 HOFers in same year

In '76, Detroit took Alan Trammell, Jack Morris and Ozzie Smith

January 20th, 2022

A version of this story originally ran in May 2020.

The Detroit Tigers had the first overall pick in the 2020 Draft, an opportunity to inject upside and land talent to form the core of the next great Tigers team. They selected Arizona State slugger Spencer Torkelson, now MLB Pipeline's No. 4 overall prospect, and they will hope he develops into a signature star.

If Detroit is lucky, perhaps multiple picks from its 2020 or '21 hauls will become significant big league contributors.

But only in the wildest of Draft dreams could the Tigers match what they did in 1976, when they brought in one of the greatest harvests in history.

That year, under the leadership of then-scouting director and eventual general manager Bill Lajoie and with the specific input of scout Dick Wiencek, the Tigers unearthed shortstop (second round) and starting pitchers (fourth round) and (fifth round) -- three linchpins of their 1984 World Series championship team and three players who combined for 131.3 career Wins Above Replacement.

Now, Trammell and Morris are both in Cooperstown. With their induction in 2018, we can look back at 1976 and say it marked the first time in the history of the amateur Draft, dating back to 1965, that a single team's Draft class featured two future Hall of Famers.

But wait, there's more.

Trammell in the second round, Morris in the fifth round … and in the seventh round?

Yes, it happened. Three Hall of Famers in one Draft. Alas, Smith didn't sign. (More on that later.)

Though it may ultimately be unrepeatable, the Tigers' 1976 Draft tells a lot about what can happen when astute eyes, a patch of prominent picks and, yes, plain old luck coalescing for a club.

It can lead to one heck of a haul … or Hall, as it were.

Stockpiled picks
The Tigers in 1976 were riding the low tide of an abominable '75 season in which they lost 102 games -- their worst showing since '52. That put them in a good spot to build upon what they started in '74, when they picked catcher Lance Parrish at No. 16 overall in the June Draft and Mark "The Bird" Fidrych in the 10th round, and continued in '75, when they nabbed left-hander Jason Thompson in the fourth round and Lou Whitaker in the fifth. The Tigers back then even unearthed viable big leaguers in the relatively picked-over platform that was the January Draft, when they got Tom Brookens in 1975 and Steve Kemp in '76.

"Pretty good scouting jobs back in those days," said Jim Leyland, then a manager in the Tigers' farm system. "We had a good system. We really did have a good organization from top to bottom."

But one thing that stands out about Detroit's '76 Draft dandy is that it wasn't what you'd call top-heavy. The Tigers had the No. 2 overall pick and it went to a Kokomo (Ind.) High School left-hander named Pat Underwood, whose brother, Tom, was in the midst of his third MLB season with the Phillies.

The younger Underwood would outduel his own brother in his big league debut in '79, but his 343 2/3 innings in the Majors were, for the most part, undistinguished.

"He was in the rotation for a while, in the bullpen for a while, and he had a few really good games," Morris said. "But he could never really dominate. It wasn't consistent."

In retrospect, we can say the Tigers, having missed out on Floyd Bannister after he went No. 1 overall to the Astros, could have found better value at No. 2, perhaps from a Springfield, Pa., catching product by the name of Mike Scioscia, who went No. 19 overall to the Dodgers.

Given everything that transpired thereafter, however, it's hard to find too much fault with the Draft path that the Tigers traversed. After all, their guiding light along that path was one of the most successful amateur scouts the sport has ever seen.

Super scouting
Dick Wiencek is one of those anonymous names whose fingerprints are, in fact, all over the game. According to data provided by the Professional Baseball Scouts Foundation, Wiencek signed 72 big leaguers, the most in history.

"That's unheard of," Petry said.

Jim Kaat. Graig Nettles. Bert Blyleven. Mark McGwire. These were some of the dozens of eventual big leaguers Wiencek, who passed away in 2011 at the age of 85, scouted and signed in a 53-year career that included stops with the Giants, Senators/Twins, Tigers, Angels, A's and Brewers -- the kind of career that, perhaps, deserves its own Cooperstown recognition.

"My dad was like the Clive Davis of baseball," Wiencek's daughter, Susan Newell, said. "He found raw talent and made them superstars."

In the lead-up to the 1976 Draft, Wiencek helped the Tigers find Trammell, Petry and Morris.

Because Southern California was Wiencek's home base and scouting terrain, it was only natural that he'd run into Trammell at Kearny High School in San Diego and Petry at El Dorado High School in Placentia.

Neither, though, was a sure thing.

Petry had a durable arm and had pitched his school to a sectional title, but he was still shy of a post-Draft growth spurt that would see him sprout an additional four inches of height and his signature 'stache. Trammell was a gifted two-sport athlete ("A lot of people thought I would go play basketball," he said, "but the stories are better when you get older") and could hit a curveball. But the overall grades on his tools -- especially his bat -- were on the low side of the scouting spectrum.

"You look at my skills coming out of high school," said Trammell, "I was small, I was skinny, no power. But I was a good athlete. How do you project that? That's the million-dollar question. That's what made Dick so good."

Added Leyland: "I couldn't do it. I'm serious ... I could not go look at a 17- or 18-year-old high school kid and say, 'Take him. He's the best player in the country. Give him six or seven million dollars.' I couldn't do it, and I'll be the first one to tell you that. [Scouts] are golden. To project it and put your butt on the line? That's tough."

A scouting mission to see Bannister pitch for Arizona State in a UC-Riverside invitational put Wiencek's eyes on Morris, then a junior at Brigham Young. Still fairly raw in the realm of pitching after primarily playing the infield in his native St. Paul, Minn., Morris was, at that time, in the midst of an undistinguished collegiate career (5.08 ERA as a sophomore, 4.72 as a junior). But on that day, facing an Arizona State team that featured 12 eventual big leaguers and with at least a couple dozen scouts on hand, Morris showed flashes of potential in a 4-0 loss.

"I just happened to have one of those nights where I felt strong," said Morris, "and I think I struck out as many as Bannister that night and matched him toe to toe."

In Morris, Wiencek recognized a competitive fire that would outlast his then-lack of refinement. Wiencek filed a glowing report to Lajoie, who took a closer look at Morris' stats and noted that his numbers tended to improve against stronger competition.

With that, the seeds of the Tigers' great Draft were sewn by a man whose instincts often made an impact.

"That year was a good year," Newell said. "We talked about it a lot. Toward the end of his life, we kept him busy. We put together a scrapbook of the articles and everything he had saved up. He spent a lot of time on it. He was very, very proud of what he did."

Sign here
It was less subterfuge and more a simple sign of the times that Trammell, Petry and Morris all had no idea the Tigers were going to select them in the Draft.

"The publications and things you have nowadays, the projections, there's a lot of guys that kind of know where they're going," Trammell said. "Not back then. I remember talking with my high school coach for a few weeks, so I knew I was going to get drafted. But I had signed a letter of intent to go to school [at UCLA]. That's what was on my mind and what my parents wanted me to do."

On Draft day, Trammell was given a pass by the hall monitor at his high school to leave class and go to the school office. He called home and was floored to learn that the Tigers had taken him in the second round.

Morris was at home in St. Paul, having received permission from his coach in a summer collegiate league in Liberal, Kan., to take some time away from the team to contemplate his fate, which turned out to be a fifth-round selection.

"Depending on which round I was taken or the money available," he said, "I was thinking about going back for my senior year."

The two future Hall of Famers both went higher than they personally expected, but neither was totally blown away by the accompanying finances.

"If I would have been drafted much lower, I would have gone off to school and done it that way," said Trammell, who got a $35,000 signing bonus. "I'm not complaining, just telling you the facts. If I had been drafted lower and the signing bonus was a little less, I would have gone off to school with a full ride."

For a few hours, that was the direction Petry -- who was tabbed in the fourth round and had a scholarship to go to Cal State Fullerton -- was headed. With Petry's dad negotiating on his behalf (Petry was only 17 years old), Wiencek stormed out of the family home when his offer was rejected.

"Dick was not a happy man when he left," Petry said. "He was really angry. But I think Dick did his job, because my dad thought about it overnight and called the next morning."

Newell was the one who answered the phone.

"My dad was with my mom somewhere, and they're calling the house, blowing the phone up because my dad walked out," she recalled with a laugh. "They're saying, 'Wait a minute, we want the kid to play baseball!'"

Morris, who was officially signed by Tigers scout Ed Katalinas, was insulted by the offer he received.

"Wow, that's it, huh?" he recalled saying.

"Well, Jack, pitchers are a dime a dozen," Katalinas replied.

"Well," said Morris, "I'll send you a quarter and you can sign a pile of guys."

Ultimately, though, Morris wanted to play. He saw the opportunity in an organization starved for pitching, and he could move quickly up the ladder.

As for the bonus?

"It bought me a brand-new Honda Civic for $2,800," Morris says now with a laugh.

He still made out better than the Wizard of Oz, who ultimately wasn't swayed by the Tigers' offer after being taken at No. 146 overall. Ozzie went back into the Draft the following year and was selected by the Padres in the fourth round in '77.

"The Detroit Tigers offered me $8,500, and I asked them for $10,000," Smith told ESPN in 2012. "They came back and said it wasn't in the budget. So I decided to go back to school, and, being the good businessman that I am, I ended up signing [with the Padres] for $5,000 and a bus ticket to Walla Walla, Wash."

It's one of the amateur Draft's ultimate what-ifs. Three Hall of Famers, two of whom just so happened to play shortstop? And just a year after the Tigers took another potentially Hall-worthy middle infielder named Lou Whitaker?

"Ozzie, Tram and Lou," Morris said. "I don't know where the heck they would all fit in. Would Ozzie play short? Would Tram play short? Where would Lou play? Yeah, it could have been really something special. But you know what? It was special anyway with Tram and Whit."

Added Trammell: "I look at it as it worked out for the best for both of us. I had my partner in Lou Whitaker. We've been linked together, as we should be. There's always the combination of Lou and Tram and Tram and Lou. But it's kind of nice to tell the story about the fact that Ozzie and I were both drafted the same year by the Tigers."

On the prowl
After signing with the Tigers, both Morris and Trammell experienced the culture shock that came with the shift to pro ball.

"I went straight to Double-A [Montgomery] and spent half a year there," Morris said. "In my mind at the time, it was a step in the wrong direction. I went from the fields at Arizona and Arizona State and Cal State Fullerton and playing a tournament in Hawaii, which was off-the-charts beautiful, to a locker room with six inches of water in the shower. The field was a dump, there were a couple light bulbs out. But it motivated me to get the hell out of there."

Trammell went to Bristol, Va., to Rookie ball.

"It was a long ways from home," he said. "No mom to cook you meals, no bedroom. It becomes your job, seven days a week. Most high school kids aren't ready for that. One thing Dick Wiencek had mentioned was that if I hit .250 and played good defense, I'd be in the big leagues a long time. I had basically hit .450 to .500 during my high school years, so I'm thinking, 'My God, I think I can do that!' Little did I know how difficult it was."

Trammell was just six weeks into his stint with Bristol when Montgomery shortstop Glenn Gulliver suffered an injury.

That's where 1976 Draft-mates and eventual Cooperstown classmates first became teammates.

"I remember how young he seemed," Morris said. "At that point, one year makes a huge difference in what your attitude is. Tram was three years younger and out of high school, and I remember he was a really bubbly guy. Positive attitude, really excited and believed in himself. ... We wondered if he could hit. They gave him a 42-ounce bat to try to swing to go the other way, and it was like the bat was swinging him."

In those days, Trammell had some trouble at the plate, and Morris had trouble finding the plate.

"Jack had a big arm," said Trammell, "but he was very erratic."

Added Morris: "Don't dig in, you might get drilled. That's because I didn't know where it was going!"

In time, Morris would sharpen his command, and Trammell would more than live up to Wiencek's wise words. They were both in the bigs by the end of '77, when Trammell was just 19 years old.

"Those guys were going to make it no matter who their manager was," Leyland said. "They were just good. Those guys were winners, they were tough, they were hard-nosed competitors. They had all the ingredients. And they're finally landing [in the Hall of Fame] where they belong."

In '84, Morris and Petry both finished in the top 10 of the American League Cy Young Award voting. Trammell finished in the top 10 for the AL MVP Award, and the Tigers won the World Series.

It is the quintessential example of a Draft done right.

"It just goes to show you the Tigers were on top of things," said Trammell, who remains an adviser to the organization. "They did a heck of a job with the scouting system and developing their players, and, lo and behold, we ended up winning a championship."