For years, former Detroit Tigers second baseman Lou Whitaker served as an instructor in Lakeland during Spring Training. After a falling out with the only organization he ever played for, however, Whitaker’s relationship with the Tigers franchise ended abruptly a few seasons ago. Though we was invited back to take part in a celebration of the 25th anniversary of the 1984 World Championship team in 2009, Whitaker did not attend.
Earlier this season, however, when the Tigers honored their late former manager, Sparky Anderson, Whitaker was among the throngs of former players and team employees to make the pilgrimage to Motown to be in attendance.
Now, in what can only be considered a breakthrough in the reconciliation between team and former star, Sweet Lou will come back to Detroit once more, this time to throw out the ceremonial first pitch prior to Game Five of the ALCS tomorrow afternoon.
I was a very young boy when I first began following the Tigers and Whitaker was then, and is now, my favorite player. Never one comfortable in the spotlight, Whitaker chose to avoid the public eye once his playing days ended.
In his 19-year big league career, Whitaker racked up 2369 hits, 244 home runs and 1087 RBI. His career WAR of 74 ranks him eighth all-time among second basemen, well ahead of Hall of Famers Roberto Alomar, Ryne Sandberg, Jackie Robinson, Bobby Doerr, Johnny Evers, and Nellie Fox, and also ahead of potential Hall members Craig Biggio and Jeff Kent.
Still, Whitaker’s career wasn’t looked upon highly by the voters of the Baseball Writers Association, who were blinded by the gaudy offensive numbers of Steroid Era middle infielders. They gave Sweet Lou just 2.9 percent of the vote in 2000, causing his name to drop from the ballot. He will be next eligible to be enshrined via the Veteran’s Committee, who can consider Whitaker for the first time in 2015.
Not since Whitaker retired after the 1995 season has anyone appeared on the field in a Tigers uniform bearing his number. It is fitting that, should he choose to don it for this occasion, Whitaker will be back on the field in Detroit wearing that familiar number one.