Alan Trammell is finally a Hall of Famer, having been elected by the Modern Game Committee on Sunday, putting him into Cooperstown along with his long-time Detroit Tigers teammate Jack Morris.
This piece is an updated version of a piece originally posted on November 28th advocating for Trammell’s election to the Hall of Fame.
For 15 years, Trams didn’t get a whole lot of support from the baseball writers. His status as an outsider to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum can be best explained by his having been born at the wrong time in history. Born in 1958, Trammell made his major league debut in 1977, three years after the debut of Robin Yount, one year before the debut of Ozzie Smith and four years before the debut of Cal Ripken Jr.
His career ended after the 1996 season, just as Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and Nomar Garciaparra were making their marks on Major League Baseball, following in the footsteps of Ripken by redefining the profile of the modern shortstop.
Yount was one of the 16 members of the Hall of Fame’s Modern Game Committee (one of the Eras Committees, which used to be called the Veterans Committee). While the actual votes were not revealed by the Hall, Trammell received 13 out of 16 votes from the 16-member panel. The committee members included 8 Hall of Famers, all of whom played against Trammell (Yount, Dennis Eckersley, Rod Carew, George Brett, Don Sutton and Dave Winfield), managed against him (Bobby Cox) or “general managed” against him (John Schuerholz).
As he goes into Cooperstown this summer with Morris, one of the great teams from the second half of the 20th century (the 1984 Tigers) will finally have a couple of representatives in the Hall. The ’84 Tigers, who got off to a 35-5 start and finished with 104 regular season wins, cruised through the ALCS and the World Series, with Trammell and Morris playing key roles in both series wins. Until Sunday, the only representative of Detroit’s ’84 club was manager Sparky Anderson. Now, two members of that august squad will have plaques commemorating their careers in Cooperstown.
For years, Trammell was overlooked in the Hall of Fame debate because, while he did everything well, he wasn’t spectacular defensively like the Wizard of Oz nor did he have the power of Yount or the power and aura of the Iron Man.
Trammell fielded his position well, he hit very well “for a shortstop” as we used to define it, and ran well. But he wasn’t extraordinary at any aspect of the game at a time when his peers at the position were doing extraordinary things and that’s why he failed in 15 attempts at the Hall of Fame via the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) ballot. Fortunately, Trammell and Morris were recognized by peers and now will have their well-deserved plaques in Cooperstown.
Cooperstown Cred: Alan Trammell:
- Career: .285 BA, 185 HR, 1,003 RBI, 2,365 hits, 236 SB
- Career: 110 OPS+, 70.4 WAR
- 1984 World Series MVP: .450 BA, 2 HR, 6 RBI
- Runner-up in 1987 A.L. MVP Vote: .343 BA, 28 HR, 105 RBI, 109 Runs
- 1,307 career double plays turned (7th most all-time for shortstops)
- 6-time All-Star
- 4-time Gold Glove Winner
(Cover photo: SB Nation)
Career Highlights (played for the Detroit Tigers from 1977-1996)
Trammell, a 2nd round draft pick by the Tigers in 1976, made his debut with the big club at the age of 19, on September 9, 1977. Making his major league debut on the same day was a 20-year old second baseman named Lou Whitaker. Trammell and Whitaker would form the the double-play combination in the middle of the diamond for the next 18 years, starting when they both become full time players in 1978, ending after the 1995 season after when Whitaker retired.
As an official rookie, in 1978, Trammell looked like he would be in the mold of the good-field, no-hit shortstops that dominated the game in the ’60’s and ’70’s. In 504 plate appearances, he hit 2 home runs with 34 RBI and a ballpark-adjusted OPS+ of 89 (which is 11% below the league average of 100). Trammell’s performance with the glove was good enough to place him 4th in the A.L. Rookie of the Year voting (which was won by Whitaker).
After another similar campaign in ’79, Trammell had a breakout season in 1980. He won his first Gold Glove and made his first All-Star team while hitting .300 with 9 home runs, 65 RBI and 107 runs scored. Still, among A.L. shortstops, Trammell was overshadowed by Milwaukee’s Yount, who slugged 23 HR with 49 doubles, 87 RBI while scoring 121 runs. Neither OPS or OPS+ existed at the time but Yount’s slugging percentage was .519, over 100 points better than Trammell’s.
In 1981 and ’82, Trammell posted two average years offensively while Yount flourished. In 1982, the Brewers’ star shortstop won the A.L. MVP trophy, hitting .331 with 29 home runs, 114 RBI, 129 runs scored and 210 hits. For five years, Trammell was clearly the second best shortstop in the Junior Circuit but he was a distant second best. Being second best was a trend that would follow the Tigers’ shortstop throughout his career.
In 1983, Trammell blossomed into a legitimate superstar, beginning an 8-year stretch in which he was one of the top players in the game. He started filling out his 6’0″ frame, showing more power while at the same time getting more aggressive on the basepaths. He continued to flash the leather in the field; he would win his third and fourth Gold Glove Awards in his ’83 and ’84 seasons which were, in fact, nearly identical:
|Avg. Yr. '78-'82||.273||.344||.367||6||47||68||12||96|
Even as he was emerging as a star, in ’83 Trammell continued to be overshadowed by Yount but now also by Ripken, who won the A.L. MVP by hitting .318 with 27 HR, 102 RBI and a league leading 211 hits, 47 doubles and 121 runs scored. As good as he was, Trammell was only the third best shortstop in the league.
In 1984, the Tigers were baseball’s best team from the jump, getting off to a 35-5 start en route to a 104-win season. After breezing through the ALCS in a three-game sweep over the Kansas City Royals, the Tigers brought the Motor City their first World Championship since 1968 in a five-game series win over the San Diego Padres.
Even in that great season, one in which he won the World Series MVP, Trammell played second fiddle to other teammates. Relief ace Willie Hernandez had a stopper season for the ages, going 9-3 with a 1.92 ERA and 32 saves en route to the Cy Young and MVP trophies. At the same time, former Michigan State University product Kirk Gibson emerged as a legitimate star, hitting 27 HR with 91 RBI; he finished 6th in the MVP voting, ahead of Trammell’s 9th place finish, making the shortstop the third ranked player on the team, at least in terms of the respect gained with the baseball writers who vote on the post-season awards.
On the star level, Trammell was also behind starting pitcher Jack Morris, who pitched a no-hitter in the team’s fourth game of the ’84 season and won three games with a 1.80 ERA in Detroit’s post-season run.
With off-season surgery on both his right shoulder and left knee, Trammell had an off-year in 1985, dropping to .258 (with a 97 OPS+). 1986 was a bounce-back campaign (.277 BA, 21 HR, 75 RBI, 25 SB, 120 OPS+) and 1987 was a season in which he probably should have won the A.L. MVP but lost to Toronto’s George Bell. Remember, that OPS+ and WAR did not exist in 1987 but even so, when you take into account the positional advantage of being a good defensive shortstop as opposed to an average left fielder, Trammell was robbed.
Continuing his “second best” run of bad timing, Trammell, in the first season where he emerged from the shadow of Yount or Ripken, still finished second, this time to Bell.
Trammell had two more All-Star caliber seasons in 1988 and 1990, sandwiched around a mediocre 1989 campaign. Starting in 1991, his career slowly went downhill, with the lone exception being 1993, when he hit .329 with a 138 OPS+. In four of his last five seasons (1992 and 1994-96), he logged less than 300 plate appearances.
Greatest Double play Combination Ever?
Until Sunday’s election, based on the metric of WAR (Wins Above Replacement) on Baseball Reference, Trammell and Whitaker were two of the five best position players from the 20th century who were not enshrined in the Hall of Fame. Whitaker (with a 74.9 WAR) is 3rd best (behind Barry Bonds, whose career was not yet over, and Pete Rose, excluded because of his gambling ban). After Bobby Grich (70.9), Trammell’s WAR (70.4) was the 5th highest number of any player from the century outside the Hall.
I am not one to reflexively adjust my feelings about a player’s worthiness for the Hall based on their WAR. It’s a useful metric but it’s an approximation, based on objective methodology but influenced by subjective decisions on the formulas to employ.
Regardless, because of their high WAR, many writers in the sabermetric community have been championing the cases of both Trammell and Whitaker for years, feeling that both had been woefully underappreciated by the writers voting on the BBWAA ballot. Whitaker (who hit 244 home runs with 1,084 RBI while winning 3 Gold Gloves) debuted on the ballot in 2001 and got just 2.9% of the vote, drumming him off all future ballots by failing to earn 5% of the vote. Trammell did a little better the next year (his first year of eligibility), getting 16% of the vote. In the 14 years since then, he achieved his highest vote total (41%) in 2016, his final year on the ballot.
In December 2012, Matt Snyder of cbssports.com researched the greatest double-play combinations of all-time, using the combined years of each duo and their respective WAR during the years they played together. In his study, Snyder limited the list to DP duos that played at least seven years together.
|Combination (SS, 2B)||Team||Years||SS WAR||2B WAR||TOTAL|
|*Alan Trammell, Lou Whitaker||Tigers||1978-95||68.9||71.6||140.5|
|*Pee Wee Reese, *Jackie Robinson||Dodgers||1947-56||47.6||58.7||106.3|
|Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley||Phillies||2003-12||35.9||53.5||89.4|
|Dave Concepcion, *Joe Morgan||Reds||1972-79||27.3||56.7||84.0|
|Billy Rogell, *Charlie Gehringer||Tigers||1930-39||22.7||59.3||82.0|
|*Honus Wagner, Claude Ritchey||Pirates||1900-06||54.4||23.3||77.7|
|*Joe Tinker, *Johnny Evers||Cubs||1902-12||42.8||34.5||77.3|
|Jack Berry, *Eddie Collins||A's||1908-15||20.9||53.0||73.9|
|Derek Jeter, Robinson Cano||Yankees||2005-12||26.5||34.8||61.3|
|*Luis Aparicio, *Nellie Fox||White Sox||1956-62||20.8||24.0||44.8|
|*Hall of Famer|
On this list, only Reese-Robinson, Tinker-Evers and Aparicio-Fox represent a keystone combo of Hall of Famers although Jeter and Cano will likely become the fourth combo five years after Cano retires.
Anyway, based solely on longevity (playing 18 years together), it’s clear that there has never been a twosome quite like Trammell and Whitaker. The duo on this list with the second most years played together (Joe Tinker and Johnny Evers) only played for 11 years together. Tinker and Evers also had the distinction of a consistent partner at first base, Frank Chance, also a Hall of Famer.
Tinker, Evers and Chance were immortalized in a poem by Franklin Pierce Adams:
These are the saddest of possible words:
Tinker to Evers to Chance.
Trio of bear cubs, and fleeter than birds,
Tinker and Evers and Chance.
Ruthlessly pricking our gonfalon bubble,
Making a Giant hit into a double-
Words that are heavy with nothing but trouble:
Tinker to Evers to Chance.
Maybe if, during the mid 1980’s, someone had written a poem like this, the Hall of Fame prospects of Trammell and Sweet Lou would have been been enhanced. The “Evans” in this poem is Darrell Evans, who played first base for the Tigers for 435 games between 1984-1988 and is another great underappreciated player from the ’70’s and ’80’s.
These are the sweetest of possible words:
Sweet Lou, Evans and Trams
A trio of Tigers, all smoother than birds
Sweet Lou, Evans and Trams
Flawlessly turning a great double play
Swinging the bats while making our day
Leading the Tigers by showing the way
Sweet Lou, Evans and Trams.
I think we can safely conclude that I, Chris Bodig, your humble author, have no future career whatsoever as a poet. None.
Maybe these great stars in the Motor City would have gotten more publicity if someone had written a song about them, cut a video, and played it on MTV.
The Cooperstown Case for Alan Trammell:
The case for Trammell starts with WAR but clearly went far beyond it in order for him to have gotten 13 votes of the small 16-member Eras Committee. The WAR argument is easy: his career 70.4 Wins Above Replacement is the 10th best for any shortstop in baseball history. The only players ahead of Trammell on the list who are not in the Hall are Derek Jeter (not yet eligible) and Bill Dahlen, who retired in 1911.
Of the nine players who were on the Modern Game ballot, his WAR was best. But WAR is just an approximation, a formula devised by highly intelligent baseball statisticians but still an approximation that requires subjective assumptions. Jack Morris had the 4th lowest WAR among the 9 players on the ballot but he got the most votes (14 out of 16).
Let’s make a WAR-free case for Alan Trammell. This is harder to do with defense but there are some notable numbers. He was 2nd in the league in fielding percentage 6 times. In his career, he turned the 7th most double plays ever for a shortstop.
The case must be made on the basis of his overall game. With the four Gold Gloves, we can safely accept that he was a solid player defensively. Now, on the offensive side of the ball, we’ve already seen that Trammell suffers in comparison to Yount and Ripken. Let’s remember, though, that Yount only played shortstop for the first eleven years of his career; he spent the final 9 campaigns in the outfield.
If you just look at the numbers accumulated solely while playing at the shortstop position, Trammell had more home runs, RBI, and runs; he had a higher batting average and slugging percentage than Yount.
Compared to Ripken, of course Trammell falls short. Thanks to his 2,632 consecutive games played, Ripken had nearly 3,000 more plate appearances. If you’re building the resume for a shortstop for the Hall, you don’t have to match Ripken to be worthy. Still, for an eight-year period of time (1983-1990), Trammell held his own, offensively, with the great Iron Man:
It’s of no surprise that the 6’4″, 200-pound Ripken pounded out more home runs than the 6’0″, 165-pound Trammell but the Tigers shortstop more than held his own on all of the “rate” stats. Incidentally, there is no other shortstop during these years that was even remotely within the same league as Ripken and Trammell offensively.
At the beginning of this piece, I indicated that Trammell was born at the wrong time in history. Imagine for a moment that he debuted ten years earlier, and played from 1967-1985. See how he compares to shortstops who debuted in the 25 years between 1946 and 1970. I’ve selected the ten shortstops during this period who (with a minimum of 5,000 career plate appearances) had the highest OPS+, plus Hall of Famer Luis Aparicio.
Forget that the highest WAR among this bunch is 55.7 (belonging to Aparicio). As a hitter, Trammell far outpaced what had become the traditional profile of a shortstop. Of course, Yount and Ripken changed that and Trammell suffered in comparison.
Let’s finish with another comparison, to another contemporary, a player who sailed into the Hall of Fame in 2012 on just his third try at the BBWAA ballot, Barry Larkin.
I think it’s fair to say that Larkin was superior as an offensive player but not by much. The defensive metrics favor Trammell which is why the WAR of each player is nearly identical. Larkin has the advantage of having won a MVP trophy (although, remember, Trammell deserved one too). Larkin also made 12 All-Star teams compared to Trammell’s 6.
Although he was initially in the shadow of Ozzie Smith, there was no remotely comparable offensive player in the National League. Once the Wizard’s string of 13 consecutive Gold Gloves came to an end, Larkin won three in a row (after a one-year hiatus in which Jay Bell won the award).
In the National League, for the 19 years in which he played, Larkin had no peer. As for Trammell, once again he was second best when both were on the same Hall of Fame ballot.
In the last 50 years, there have been seven truly great MLB shortstops: Ripken, Yount, Larkin, Ozzie, Trammell, Jeter and Alex Rodriguez. All seven have a career WAR of 70 or above. All except for Ozzie were superior offensive talents. Ozzie is on the list because his defensive metrics are off the charts, matching the eye test.
The eighth best shortstop in the last 50 years? By WAR, it’s Miguel Tejada, with a career WAR of 46.9. By most subjective opinion, Omar Vizquel would be in this group, based on the feeling that he was, defensively, the Ozzie Smith of the 1990’s and 2000’s. Vizquel is on the BBWAA ballot for the first time this year; I wrote extensively about him in the piece Will Omar Vizquel Join The Wizard in Cooperstown? He was an excellent defensive player but not in Smith’s class and his offensive contributions were not remotely close to the seven in this group.
If you believe that there’s room for seven Hall of Fame shortstops over a 50-year period, there’s no doubt that Alan Trammell richly deserves his newly conferred title of “Hall of Famer.”
Thanks for reading.