It’s time for Detroit Tigers to retire 1984 heroes numbers

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The Chicago White Sox announced last month that they would be retiring Paul Konerko‘s #14 on May 23 after he played his final season for the Southsiders in 2014.

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Konerko spent 16 of his 18 professional seasons with the White Sox and, in 2005, brought the City of Chicago its first baseball World Championship since 1917. He had a solid career but is not likely a Hall-of-Famer. Still, for what he brought to the team and being a fan favorite spurred the White Sox into action.

Konerko has left an indelible mark on White Sox fans the same way that several Detroit Tigers’ legends left on Tigers’ fans. While one full season will not pass before Paul Konerko is honored for his accomplishments, it has been 21, 20, and 19 years respectively since Jack Morris, Lou Whitaker and Alan Trammell made their final appearances in the major leagues.

It is past time for the Detroit Tigers to honor these players.

While most Tigers’ fans, us included, are annually angered when players from the 1984 team are largely ignored nationally and shut out by the Hall-of-Fame, maybe we should be equally angry with the Tigers for refusing to retire the numbers of these players. After all, if the team they played for does not think their careers warranted special honors, why should the Baseball Hall-of-Fame?

Morris might be a little tougher sell for some Tigers’ fans. Many of the backers of new-age statistics do not believe Morris is a Hall-of-Famer and perhaps his most indelible moment as a professional came in another team’s uniform (1991 Game 7 10-inning CG victory for the Minnesota Twins). Yet Morris was the winningest pitcher of the 1980’s on a team that (if you take out the 1989 103-loss team) was the most consistently winning squad of the decade.

Trammell and Whitaker are slam dunks.  In fact there would be no better way for the Tigers to honor them then to retire the numbers together, since they will always be linked throughout Tigers’ history.

This missing honor is a bit of a head scratcher. Mike Ilitch is always one to embrace history, celebrate the team’s legends and promote positive fan relations. For instance, when he purchased the team from Tom Monahan in late summer 1992, one of his first key moves as owner was to bring back legendary announcer Ernie Harwell, who had been dismissed a year earlier by the previous regime.

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The Tigers have always been notoriously stingy with retiring numbers. Fittingly the first retired number in franchise history was that of Mr. Tiger, Al Kaline. Yet it took the team five years to finally retire #6, in 1980. Coincidentally that was the year Kaline was elected to the Baseball Hall-of-Fame.

Three years later the Tigers paid overdue honor to Hall-of-Famers Charlie Gehringer and Hank Greenberg, retiring #2 and #5 in a joint ceremony at Tiger Stadium on June 12, 1983.  It was not until 1997 that Hal Newhouser‘s #16 was retired, followed by Willie Horton‘s #23 in Comerica Park’s first season of 2000 and Sparky Anderson‘s #11 in 2011.

The argument could be that the team only retires Hall-of-Fame numbers, however Horton, though beloved in Detroit, has never been considered Cooperstown material.

Perhaps the holdup was Trammell’s unsuccessful stint as Tigers’ manager from 2003 to 2005, which saw the team lose an AL-record 119 games his first year. Though I’d be willing to bet the Tigers never fully blamed him for that debacle as a rookie manager playing with the scraps of a team largely cobbled together during the disastrous Randy Smith-era, which had just ended the year before.

Both sides often dismissed any bad blood post-2005 and Jim Leyland readily gave Trammell credit during the surprising 2006 season.

Trammell is back with the organization as a special assistant to Dave Dombrowski, so perhaps these honors are on the horizon.

Jose Iglesias and Ian Kinsler wear Lou and Tram’s numbers currently, but should the Tigers retire these numbers during each of these player’s time in Detroit, they can continue wearing them until they move on.

Or Mr. Ilitch could remember what he did for his hockey team when retiring the #12 of Sid Abel in 1995. Bob Errey was wearing the number at the time and agreed to change to #21. As part of the Red Wings’ ceremony, Errey took off his #12 jersey, revealing the new #21 jersey, and presented his former jersey to Abel.

No matter how it is handled, it would be a very special day at Comerica Park when the numbers 1, 3, and 47 make their rightful appearance among Tigers’ legends of the past.

Next: What have we become as Detroit Tigers' fans?

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