Mr. Trammell Goes to Cooperstown? He Damn Well Better


(Note: This is a guest post offered for your consumption and special for MCB)

Author: John Lambie 

Each winter, A few days after the results of BBWAA balloting for the Baseball Hall of Fame are announced, a complex and detailed plan begins to unfurl in preparation of the induction ceremony the coming July. There are press releases, the coordination of speakers and media coverage, artifacts to gather, phone calls to make.

One of those phone calls is to an artist from the Northeast whose spectacular job it is to cast the actual plaque that will hang in the Hall of Fame gallery, commemorating in bronze another immortal member of a small, and fantastic club. The Hall of Fame staff is very particular not to release too much detail on the artist, I assume it is part of the allure. Senior staff from the HOF choose a single photograph that is used as the basis for the sculpture and molding of the form from which the plaque is cast. It is cast once, and once only, and then the form is destroyed. This is a special thing, a unique thing, sacred such that as of today only 295 plaques hang in Cooperstown, despite nearly 150 years of recognized professional baseball.

I’ve seen every plaque, more than once. As I visited the Hall in September of this year I couldn’t help but think to myself on more than one occasion……there’s one missing.

I think this photo would make a fine plaque, a fine addition.

Alan Stuart Trammell took the field as a Detroit Tiger for the first time on September 9th, 1977, for the second game of a double header against the Boston Red Sox. He had been drafted in the second round of the amateur draft little more than fifteen months prior.  He played shortstop, wore number 42, and went 2-3 with a double, and a run scored. He was 19 years old.

By the time he strode off the diamond for the last time, also as a Detroit Tiger, he was a weathered 38 years old, wore number 3, and had cemented himself in Tigers lore as the best shortstop the storied franchise had ever known.

In his 20 seasons Trammell solidified the shortstop position, and raised the bar for those who would follow him to exceptional heights. He established the Tigers franchise record for games played at SS, pacing nearly every career offensive category for his position in the rich history of the team. His durability, dedication and love for the Tigers, the city of Detroit and Manager Sparky Anderson defined for a generation of Detroit fans what it meant to be a big league ballplayer. Everyone who met him, loved him. Everyone who saw him play, was impressed, thoroughly, from the beginning.

He finished fourth in balloting for the 1978 AL Rookie of the Year Award. Two years later he appeared on an AL MVP ballot for the first of seven times in his career.  He hit .300 that season, a feat he also accomplished seven times. 1980 also saw Tram take home the first of four Gold Gloves in five seasons. He scored 107 runs, posted an on-base % of .376 and walked 69 times versus 63 strikeouts. It was his third full season, and he was only 22.

From 1983-1988 the AL average for home runs from the shortstop position was 14 – Trammell averaged 21 – 50% more than his compatriots. In contradiction, Trammell also lead the American League in sacrifice hits twice in the 1980’s, averaging more than 11 per year from 1980-1986. Six times in his career he stroked more than 30 doubles, and an astonishing eleven times he would draw as many or more walks than he had strikeouts.

After 2,293 Major League games Trammell had struck out only 24 times more than he walked. He recorded 2,365 base hits. He drove in and scored more than 1,000 runs. He stole 236 bases, thirteen times swiping double digit bags. Nine times he posted an OPS + of 113 or better. His versatility, instinct and work ethic consistently placed him in the upper echelon of shortstops over his vast career in each aspect of the game.

“Alan did everything well”, teammate Randy O’Neal, the winning pitcher the night the 1984 Tigers clinched their division, told me. “He was fundamentally sound with the bat and glove, he had a consistent, strong arm. Tram had great instincts, adjustments he made that didn’t show up in box scores, things you had to see on the field, things a lot of fans missed. He was never out of position and always knew the situation”. As a high school baseball coach in Florida O’Neal attempts to teach the character and intuition Trammel brought to the field.

Milt Wilcox remembers “When Alan was behind me, he and Lou (Whitaker), I knew I had the best combination in the game out there supporting me”. Wilcox described Trammell as “a complete shortstop, The kind of player you knew would come through when the team really needed him”.

Trammell posted a career split of .321/.388/.477 – an .865 OPS in games the Tigers won. He hit .294 with a .394 OBP in extra innings. In “High Leverage” at-bats, as described by Baseball Reference, he hit .292 with a .760 OPS. His batting average with men on base was .296, with runners in scoring position it was .288. In each of these categories he ranks among the top 25 shortstops in the history of the game.

I suppose the ultimate goal of statistics, when taking the 30,000 foot view, is to correlate the impact and level of a players performance upon his team, the outcome of the game, and against his peers. The statistic many baseball nerds, of which I proudly claim to be one, consider most telling from a snapshot is WAR, or Wins Above Replacement. Trammel boasts a career mark of 66.9, which ranks 71st all-time among position players – more than Eddie Murray, Willie McCovey, Ernie Banks, Harmon Killebrew and Ozzie Smith – all members of the Baseball Hall of Fame. Alan Trammell is 9th among players whose primary position was shortstop. Of the eight ranking higher than Alan, five are current members of the HOF, with the remaining three (Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter and Barry Larkin) seeming almost sure bets to join the fraternity in the near future.

Among his generational peers Alan was consistently considered among the premier infielders in the American League.His WAR among all position players found him among the top ten statistically in the AL seven times – in each such season he was either the leader in the category among AL shortstops, or second to Cal Ripken. In 1987 Trammell led all players in the AL in Offensive WAR at 8.4, the year in which, if I may be so humble, he was robbed utterly blind for the American League MVP.

Alan was a member of six All-Star teams, won three Silver Sluggers as the best hitting SS in the American League, and collected the 1984 World Series MVP Award. “In that World Series, every time he picked up a bat you felt like he was getting a hit, a big hit, he was unstoppable” proclaimed Wilcox, who won 17 games that season.

Trammell hit an amazing .450 with an OPS of 1.300. He stroked two key home runs, drove in six and scored five runs of his own to help the Tigers win their first World Championship in sixteen years.

Be it the regular season, or the post-season, offensively, defensively or through intangibles there was one constant for Alan Trammell as a ball player – he played the game the way it was supposed to be played, and few men have done it better in the grand scheme of things. He did it in one place, for one team for twenty years, partnering with Lou Whitaker (whose own HOF story should be told) to become the most prolific double play tandem ever. The consummate teammate, Trammell hit in four different spots of the Tigers batting order in at least 250 games.

His impact as a player can be measured in all of these numbers, in graphs and charts and algorithms. The numbers say he was great, historically great. Beyond the numbers, well, only those who saw his entire career up close and personal truly know how tremendous he was. These folks will bore you with statistics, but they’ll also enlighten you with stories and memories of diving stabs and rocket line drive throws that won games. They’ll regale you with tales of clutch doubles, key bunts and smart base running. If you take the teachable moments of the game, Alan was a shining example of the fundamentals and technique a great player encompasses.

If the fruit bearing portion of the argument is statistical, then my only question is how much room do I have to list his numerical accolades among his peers, among  every shortstop in history. If it is reputation, then find me a baseball man who saw the game from 1977-1996 and would not count Alan as one of the finest shortstops in the game over that span. A competitor, a gentleman, a winner. I’ll wait, go ahead.

In his post-playing days Trammell has managed two MLB teams, and appears in line to spend his remaining working years teaching the game he loves at the highest level, the game he played with a consistent grace, a fluidity of effort and natural talent.  He is a baseball man, and he deserves the recognition of being inducted as a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame.

In 2002 Alan appeared on the BBWAA ballot for the first time, and garnered 15.7% of the vote, 75% is required for induction by the writers. In the 2011 vote his share had increased to 24.3%, a number I find frankly, embarrassing. He’ll remain on the writers ballot for another five years, at which point if he has failed to reach 75% of the votes in a given year he’ll be removed, and remanded to the Veterans Committee aspect of the election process. Unless significant momentum builds, it’s likely the latter is the only real option. It isn’t right, but it is what it is.

Just because a fight does not appear winnable, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t fight it. Trammell himself, while he enjoyed successful teams in the first half of his career, toiled on terrible ball clubs for the bulk of the latter half. He was a fighter, who refused to give up on his team until his body gave him no choice.Even when his team wasn’t in the spotlight. So I’ll hold out hope, I’ll cross my fingers on January 15th, when ballots are counted in Cooperstown. Here’s hoping a wrong can get made right this year, or shortly thereafter.

John Lambie is a life-long Tigers fan and a proud father. He’s also active on twitter, where you can follow him @Lembeck451.