On this date 53 years ago, my all-time favorite Tiger, Lou Whitaker, was born.
Growing up in the 80s, I modeled my baseball career after his. I can recall showing up for the first day of Junior League ball (which I believe was roughly fourth grade?) and the coach asking me what position I wanted to play. Despite being one of the bigger kids on the team, I said second base, which is where I stayed until Junior High when the coaches there figured correctly that my future was a few steps to the left, and they handed me a first base mitt.
To this day, when I see a second baseman range behind the bag and make a twirling throw to first, I think of Whitaker. That play Robinson Cano made recently where he fired a strike to first while running towards left center? Whitaker did that kind of thing with regularity.
He was a leadoff man with power, long before leadoff men were home run threats. If it weren’t for the Steroid Era, when suddenly players like Bret Boone were slamming 40-homers in a season, Whitaker’s numbers perhaps would not have been so overlooked.
Sweet Lou was perhaps the most under-appreciated second sacker in baseball history. His numbers rank among the best that have ever played the position.
Last year, I profiled Whitaker in our By the Numbers series. As I said at that time, I consider Whitaker’s dropping off the Hall of Fame ballot after just one year to be among the biggest slights in baseball history.
From BTN: Lou Whitaker
There are currently only 17 second basemen in the Hall of Fame, of those only nine had more hits than Whitaker. Only Rogers Hornsby, Ryne Sandberg, and Joe Morgan had more home runs, and Whitaker drove in more runs than all but 10 of them. Whitaker’s career .363 OBP would place him tenth in that group, and his 1386 runs scored would place him ninth.
It’s clear when looking at the numbers that Whitaker was not a fringe Hall of Famer, he should have been in long before now. Thanks to some eligibility rule changes, Whitaker’s Hall chances are not dead, he is eligible for enshrinement by the Veteran’s Committee in 2015.
Here’s hoping they have the gumption to overturn a wrong done to one of the all-time greats.
Happy Birthday, Sweet Lou.