The best Detroit Tigers shortstop of all-time is Alan Trammell.
Alan Stuart Trammell was the second round pick of the Detroit Tigers in the 1976 draft. It didn’t take the San Diego native long to make his first appearance in the major leagues. On Sept. 9, 1977, in the second game of a double-header at Fenway Park, Trammell and a young second baseman named Lou Whitaker each made their major league debut.
The pair would go on to play together for 19 seasons. While his partner won the 1978 AL Rookie of the Year award (Tram finished fourth), Trammell hit nearly 100 points higher than in his limited action of 1977. His average reached .300 for the first time in 1980, and it netted him the first of six All-Star appearances.
As the Tigers began to contend in the American League East in the early 1980′s, Trammell’s plate production increased. In 1983, the Tigers won more than 90 games (92-70) for the first time since 1971 but finished a distant second place to the eventual World Champion Baltimore Orioles and, of course, we all know what happened in 1984. Those two seasons were among the best of Tram’s career. He notched double-digit home runs for the first time in his career (14 in both ’83 and ’84) and hit .319 and .314 respectively. He had a .351 average with three homers and nine RBIs in the 1984 postseason and won the World Series MVP.
After a couple off-years while battling injuries, Sparky Anderson asked a healthy Trammell to anchor the Tigers’ 1987 lineup and bat cleanup. He responded with the best year of his storied career, setting career highs with a .343 average, 28 homers and 105 RBIs. When it appeared the Tigers would miss out on the postseason after falling behind the Toronto Blue Jays in the standings, Tram came to life. He hit at a .416 clip in September, lifting the Tigers to an astonishing come-from-behind AL East title.
In shades of things to come, Trammell was robbed in the AL MVP voting that season, finishing second to Toronto’s George Bell.
Defensively, Trammell wasn’t thought of in the same sentence as defense-first guys like Ozzie Smith, but he was steady and rarely made miscues or cost his team runs with errors. He won five Gold Gloves during his career and, along with Whitaker, formed the longest continuous double-play combination in baseball history (19 years and more than 2,000 games).
In the latter portions of his career, Trammell battled numerous injuries which caused his production to ebb and flow, however he still batted over .300 three more times. Most expected Trammell to retire when Whitaker announced that the 1995 season would be his last, but Tram decided to give it one more go, playing a reduced roll for the awful 1996 Tigers. Tram spent time at third base, second base, left and center, in addition to shortstop and DH the year Detroit set a then-franchise record of 109 losses.
Seven years later, Trammell managed the worst team in American League history, the 2003 Tigers. The team bounced back from that terrible season and improved by nearly 30 games in 2004, but when the team regressed a bit in 2005, Trammell was fired. It’s worth nothing that even the best managers in baseball history could not have done anything with that 2003 team and, after winning the AL pennant in 2006, Jim Leyland thanked Alan Trammell for his help in turning the franchise around.
We’ve greatly covered Trammell’s continued Hall-of-Fame snub, so we’ll skip that for now. Most believe that he will certainly get in via the Veteran’s Committee, so how fitting will it be when Tram is (eventually) inducted into Cooperstown along with Lou Whitaker? It will happen. It’s just a matter of time.
Next week, we’ll look at the all-time best third basemen in Tigers’ history. The consensus choice of the Motor City Bengals’ staff is sure to surprise some of our readers!