|Hall of Fame: Painting the Corner - A Look at Alan Trammel||| Print |||Send|
Written by Robert Grossman (Contact & Archive) on July 17, 2003
The following essay is the next in an ongoing series of articles about the contemporary role of the Hall of Fame as a cultural institution and as a benchmark for measuring baseball’s changing standards of excellence over time. Previous articles in the series may be found here: Hall of Fame Part I , Setting a New Standard
The most notable shortstop on the current HoF ballot is Alan Trammell, an almost-MVP and a Lou Boudreau-type player in his own right. Our statistically obsessed age produced MVP George Bell ahead of Alan Trammell in 1987 in a very close vote - 332 points to 311 (Bell had 16 first place votes, Trammell had 12). Bell’s superb power numbers (.308-47-134) edged out Trammell’s incredible season (.343-28-105) during the pre-A-Rod-Nomar-Jeter-Tejada shortstop era. Despite a nearly identical OPS, 21 steals, 50% more walks and 50% fewer strikeouts, and 205 hits, Trammell lost the real numbers game — i.e., the home run derby — while playing 151 games at shortstop. Cal Ripken’s first MVP season (1983) produced numbers only nearly identical to Trammell’s (.318-27-102); Trammell, however stole 20 bases and Ripken struck out almost twice as often (97) as he walked (58). Ripken’s 1991 numbers (.323-34-114) saw Cal walk more than K and even steal a career high 6. Did Trammell need an iron man streak to get the MVP? Postscript: George Bell, a fine player during his 12-year career, was eliminated from the HoF ballot in his first year of eligibility with only 1.2% support.
Let’s compare Trammell, a player that many consider a “near-great,” to Reese, since they had nearly the same number of at-bats, and set aside comparisons to Ripken, who by all accounts is truly in a league of his own.
Statistically, Trammell has the edge. Even if you don’t consider that about 1/3 of Reese’s triples would be doubles today, Trammell’s slugging is still 50 points higher and his stolen base totals equal those of the speedy Reese. A six-time all-star, Trammell was comparable to a good NL-style player, also leading the league twice in sacrifice hits (and finishing high five times in that category), earning a reputation as a superb fundamental player in the field and at the plate. In 1984 he was also the World Series MVP, hitting .450 with a .800 slugging percent and 2 homers.
For easier comparison, here are the career numbers averaged per 162 games:
Looking at these numbers we see that Boudreau was one of the best doubles hitters of his time (he actually led the league 3 times), giving him equal slugging to Trammell, plus he was a better hitter, striking out rarely and drawing a lot of walks. In fact, not only could Boudreau execute the fundamentals well, he finished in the MVP voting Top-Ten eight times, winning in 1948 (and finishing 3rd in 1947). On the other side, Trammell was an excellent baserunner who also had very good speed before his injuries, and played 25% more than Boudreau. Comparing Trammell to Boudreau, one might ask, was Trammell as good, or “just a bit outside?” It seems that Trammell cannot pass the Reese-Rizzuto dynasty test, for the fact that Detroit was never a dynasty in the 1980s, though they did field many good teams consistently, and he and teammate Lou Whitaker were a part of the reason. But is that good enough, and would it have been good enough for Lou Boudreau, who died in August of 2001, a year before Trammell’s first year of eligibility? And should we say that Pee Wee was better merely because he played on many pennant winning Brooklyn teams, loaded to bursting with Hall of Famers?
Four Gold Gloves and five all-star appearances make Fernandez, who was known for his great range and arm, certainly no weaker than Trammell in that department, and Fernandez did hit lifetime .395 in 11 WS games with a .327 career post-season average. If Trammell cannot meet the standard, Tony Fernandez also has little chance, especially without the big hardware of the Detroit shortstop, less power, and several inconsistent seasons where he moved around, changing teams erratically from 1990-2001. After his second stint in Toronto, injuries limited his playing time in certain years, though his last 3 or 4 years were among his best offensively. But what chance will either Trammell or Fernandez have, should they remain on the ballot at a time when cultural memory views them by the standards of 19-time all-star (and “iron man” Übermensch) Cal Ripken, the winner of MVPs in two different decades — or against the current crop of superstar shortstops Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, and the superb-hitting Nomar? Trammell is surely a stronger candidate than Fernandez, but aren’t you surprised at how close Fernandez’s numbers come to Alan Trammell’s? I was. And I do remember Fernandez as the best defensive shortstop in the AL for a few years during his first stint in Toronto.
To play Devil’s Advocate, let’s ask how a great defensive shortstop like Omar Vizquel stacks up against the best: Ozzie Smith. Vizquel is only 36 years old and still can play, having earned nine straight Gold Gloves (A-Rod deservedly won his first one last year), and has at least a couple good seasons left. There is time for Vizquel to reach Ozzie Smith in Runs, Hits, RBI, and possibly Doubles, while holding a better lifetime average (Smith did have good BB/K numbers). Sure, Ozzie Smith and Luis Aparicio stand out as special shortstops, but would you deny Omar for only stealing 300 bases (Aparicio had 506 and also hit exactly .262, same as Ozzie, over 18 seasons) or only winning 9 Gold Gloves for a team that came close, but never won the World Series, and then began a natural defensive decline?
Larkin is a truly excellent defensive shortstop who managed to win three straight Gold Gloves after the untouchable Ozzie Smith legacy and was considered the best all-around shortstop in the NL—if not in all of baseball—from the early to mid-1990s 2. An 11-time all-star, Larkin hit over .300 nine times, and was the NL MVP in 1995. In almost 1000 fewer at bats (at the time of this writing), Larkin produced as much or more offense than Trammell. It will be interesting to see how Larkin finishes his career and how his numbers at 8300 AB will compare to his best contemporaries. Like Boudreau, Larkin was a slightly better hitter than Trammell (about ten points higher), and had a better OBP and had more power than either. Add his great defense, a World Series title, and you have a likely Hall of Famer. How much far below Larkin is Trammell? The key here is that Larkin already has had a couple more great years offensively (Trammell did hit over .300 seven times, and was double digits in SB thirteen times) and always played superb defense. Looking at the percentages rather than the raw numbers is helpful here.
Next in the series I will take a look at Alan Trammell's double-play partner, Lou Whitaker