Detroit Tigers: What if Alan Trammell won the 1987 AL MVP?


Based on the idea from Marvel’s “What if?” series that airs on Disney Plus and the comic book, we look at what-if scenarios for the Detroit Tigers.

The Marvel cinematic universe has made it into the cultural zeitgeist over the last decade. Even Minor League Baseball is getting into the spirit as they announced for 2022 that teams will be participating in Marvel theme nights, including a few of the Detroit Tigers minor league affiliates called “Defenders of the Diamond”.

This exercise does seem like a stretch but this is in all in good fun and the idea is to make you think a bit about what could have been. Alan Trammell is in the Hall of Fame so you may be asking why start with him?  His road to the Hall of Fame was not easy.  The idea is to look at this at all possible angles in so-called “parallel universes.”

Prologue:  Playing in the shadows of giants

Act 1: The AL East race of 1987

On our first trip back to the past, we start with the fall of 1987. The Tigers and Blue Jays were fighting for the AL East division crown. Toronto was just two years removed from their first AL East division title in 1985 and a loss to the Royals in seven games in the ALCS.

Both George Bell and Alan Trammell were having red hot second halves of the season.


What is pretty clear here is that Bell had more home runs than Trammell so he won the power battle but Trammell had one season in which he had over 200 hits, which was 1987 and Bell finished the season in a 2-for-26 slump but


showed some class after finishing second to Bell in a quote back in 1987.

Trammell on MVP
Trammell on MVP 18 Nov 1987, Wed Star Tribune (Minneapolis, Minnesota) /
Trammell Clip 2
Trammell Clip 2 18 Nov 1987, Wed Star Tribune (Minneapolis, Minnesota) /

Based on historical trends up to 1987, it seemed like Trammell was a slam dunk. Robin Yount and Cal Ripkin Jr were the only shortstops in history to have 200 hits, 100 RBI, and 100 runs scored and both won the MVP vote. (Yount in ’82 and Ripkin Jr in ’83) but unlike those two, Trammell never would get to 3,000 hits, which was automatic to get you into the Hall of Fame.

The vote was close. Bell won with 16 first-place votes to Trammell’s 12.

Act 2: A 2001 odyssey

Let’s travel back to the winter of 2001. The big movies in December were “The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring”, “Ocean’s Eleven” and “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone”.  The Arizona Diamondbacks were basking in the glow of their first World Series and the number one album at the time was Creed’s “Weathered”.

It was the first year of eligibility for the Baseball Hall of Fame for headliners like Alan Trammel, Ozzie Smith, and Andre Dawson. Trammell received just 15.7% of the vote while Smith got in with 91.7% of the vote.  It has been often said that the backflips on the big stage helped Smith but he was a defensive guru, one of the best who ever played so that argument is not only stupid but just reeks of pettiness.

Some argue that Smith’s contemporaries in the NL at the time were no future Hall of Famers like Ripkin Jr and Yount.  To look at this from outside of local daily newspapers,  I pulled a quote from a national writer Tracy Ringolsby in 2001 when the voting was occurring that gives a rundown for Trammell.

The stats indicated it. Even this tidbit may have helped make Trammell’s case stronger. Sarah Langs of wrote last year. 42 players (47%) of Hall of Famers who won the MVP award just once, got in on their first time. The odds increased as players won more MVP awards of course but Smith never won a regular-season NL MVP but did win a post-season MVP award as Trammell did with the World Series (NLCS)

Denouement: The data savants save Alan Trammell

Stereotypically, there are two types of baseball fans. One who loves all the data surrounding the stats and the other is just a typical fan, who enjoys rooting for their favorite players without diving deeper into the analytics of the game.

It really depends on where you live and such but if there was one thing that the age of the internet and people like Bill James and Jay Jaffe have done is make us aware of stats that dive deeper than just “wins” and the topical ones you see on baseball cards.

Jaffe’s book “The Cooperstown Casebook” was written before Trammell got into the Hall of Fame but his case in his book leads off the shortstop chapter. Two lines in the chapter stand out and for any Detroit Tigers fan, this is a book you should get because he makes a great case for Lou Whitaker but I digress.

"“In fact, he’s statistically a dead ringer for another contemporary: longtime Reds star and 2012 Hall of Fame indicted Barry Larkin”“Only in 2016, his 15th (Trammell) and final year of eligibility, he did exceed the halfway point to 75%, topping out with 40.9%”"

We had Jaffe on the Tigers podcast in 2020 to talk about Lou Whitaker and how synonymous he is to Alan Trammell.  I really believe that if Trammell wins the 1987 MVP, his fate would not been decided by the Modern Era Baseball committee who elected him in 2018 along with his teammate Jack Morris. Instead, he may have gotten in sooner. The MVP award would have made it harder for writers to ignore.

Knowledge is power and it has helped inform Detroit Tigers fans and beyond how important Alan Trammell’s numbers were. Fans outside of Detroit could see he was deserving of the honor.

I leave you with this quote from Lynn Henning. This quote can be found in Jaffe’s book.

"“Trammell didn’t have that gun, but his throwing was fast and so fluid, much like his swing. He got the maximum out of those mechanics that anyone’s ever seen out of a top-tier shortstop”."