Detroit Tigers legend Lou Whitaker again fell short of making the Hall of Fame in 2019, this time by the Modern Era Committee. Will he ever get in?
The Modern Era Committee has convened in order to vote on election to the Baseball Hall of Fame, and this year they chose Marvin Miller and Ted Simmons. Of interest to Detroit Tigers fans is that Lou Whitaker, on this ballot for the first time, failed to get in when he received only six of the necessary 12 votes out of 16.
Whitaker’s career received little love back in 2001, when he received just 2.9% of the vote from the Baseball Writers Association of America and consequentially fell off the ballot. The Modern Era Committee presented an opportunity for Whitaker’s career to get another look after 18 years, but this time he was again passed over. However, it is encouraging that he got halfway there on his first try.
Let’s look at Whitaker’s Hall of Fame case. One of the biggest arguments in his favor is that his career WAR of 75.1 ranks seventh all-time among second basemen, largely on the strength of his strong defensive WAR. Ryne Sandberg, Roberto Alomar, and Craig Biggio are among those who have gained election to the Hall from second base with a lower career WAR, and those three made it without much controversy.
Except for the fact that Biggio reached 3,000 hits and Whitaker did not (2,369), Whitaker’s case is similar to that of Biggio’s in that they both had few standout seasons but were steady players for a long period of time. Whitaker’s best stretch was 1983-1987 in which he was an All-Star five times, won three Gold Glove Awards and four Silver Slugger Awards, and finished eighth in MVP voting in 1983.
Whitaker was a staple of one of the game’s most storied franchises for nearly two decades, and that should count for something. The fact that he had few standout years works against his case, as well as the fact that the traditional numbers don’t quite match up to some of the more obvious Hall of Fame candidates. Yet for nearly two decades, you knew that you’d see Whitaker wearing the English D at second base. If that counts for anything with voters, he’ll eventually get in.
Many Tigers fans consider it a crime that Alan Trammell had to wait so long and that, now that he’s actually in, his longtime double play partner hasn’t gotten in yet. Trammell had a 70.7 career WAR, not as high as Whitaker’s. Yet he seems to have been appreciated more in the era in which he played, as he placed in MVP voting seven times compared to Whitaker’s one time. Yet if Trammell can get in, there’s hope for Whitaker as well.
The Modern Era Committee will meet again in another three years, in 2022. Will that give all of us, including the voters, the necessary time to appreciate Whitaker’s career enough that he’ll take the leap and get in? It’s a tall task to pick up another six votes, but until then Tigers fans can continue to make the case.