|The 21st Century Hall of Fame: A Great Duo: Trammell and Whitaker||| Print ||
Written by Robert Grossman (Contact & Archive) on July 26, 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, Painting the Corner with Alan Trammell , Seconds Anyone?
Placing a Great Duo in Historical Context
So, what about Lou Whitaker? Aren’t Trammell and Whitaker, who played together in the middle infield of Detroit for a (today) unheard of 19 consecutive years (1977-1995) worth something to baseball, as a sport obsessed with tradition, image and mythmaking, even if they are not deemed “top-shelf” Hall of Famers, or fell slightly below what we hoped they could have achieved? What do we do with these winning players, if they fail to be selected? Where will they be remembered? What role will the Hall of Fame play in making certain that this special duo, perhaps the last of its kind in the modern era, will be remembered by future fans?
Do I think that Alan Trammell is a Hall of Famer? By now, you’re probably guessing, yes, he does think so. But I’m not entirely certain myself — and I am much less sure of Whitaker. Perhaps if Trammell had hit ten points higher (.295 instead of .285), or had two or three more really healthy years, the decision would be easier. And although Whitaker’s career numbers may not blow us away, he and Frank White were probably the best all-around second baseman in the AL for quite a while. White was also very fine player, and won eight Gold Gloves, but his career numbers did not seem to impress voters — and failed to impress me, though I have strong memories of his excellence. I personally remember him in his prime as the best second baseman in the league, and I don’t think that the Royals would have been atop the AL West so often without his contributions. His numbers, surely, do not tell a story — and that is, after all, what the Hall of Fame is really for — to tell us the stories of baseball, to teach future generations why the Royals were an AL powerhouse and what they had to overcome to finally win a World Series title. In the 70s and early 80s, the always elegant Willie Randolph never won a Gold Glove, all because of Frank White and his mind-blowing range.
Ironically, Trammell’s worst enemy in the Hall of Fame voting might be Whitaker himself. Their statistical similarities might be Trammell’s undoing, since Trammell’s career (though possibly a bit more impressive in terms of his many .300+ seasons, near MVP, and WS MVP) is so similar to Whitaker’s that many feel he cannot merit induction if Whitaker garnered only 3% of voter support.
Tinker hit .300 only once, and Evers did so twice; but Tinker was never MVP, whereas Evers won the award in 1914 with Boston, producing some of the lowest offense in MVP history (.279-1-40 with 20 doubles, 12 steals and 81 runs in 139 games). Strikeout records were not kept accurately until 1910, but clearly both were better than solid hitters for their era in that category, though Tinker rarely walked and had a very low on base percentage. Evers was an especially adept batsman, striking out only 10 times in 1911, and exceeded 20 Ks only twice in the eight seasons he played during which records were kept (1910-1917). Tinker was at the top of the league a few years in sacrifice hits, and Evers appeared near the top in steals and walks, but only a few times. Their elections to the Hall are as much a part of the legend (and winning spirit) that they created in Chicago at the turn of the Century with first baseman Frank Chance (.296 career average over 17 seasons with 401 steals and .396 on base), as their superior defense, for which they are famously remembered.
One useful point of comparison to the modern era is on-base percentage, which makes Whitaker and Trammell look pretty good considering their tendency to be heavier-hitting infielders who could strike out trying to drive the ball (Whitaker more so than Trammell) in the cozy confines of Tiger Stadium. Of course, how many home runs would have been outs in 1907—or merely doubles? The dimensions of Tiger Stadium really didn’t change very much since 1907, when Ty Cobb hit there, and the same can be said of Wrigley Field where the Cubs play—so that may not even be much of a factor in this most unique of examples. I won’t venture to make juxtapositions across a century wide gap, but if you do some looking yourself, I think you’ll find Whitaker and Trammell no worse, and probably better, offensively, than Tinker and Evers. As for defense, there is no questioning the legend of the Cubs trio — Tinker to Evers to Chance. From the perspective of collective cultural memory, they invented the double play. But I can’t help but think that Whitaker and Trammell were a fine partnership that lasted even longer.
However dubious we may feel about our own attempts at statistical analysis or about a comparison among players from nearly a century ago; and however we may fudge or legitimate ten points of batting average one way or the other, or attempt to adjust a few triples here and some post-Dead-ball Era home runs there; and however many hours we try to balance walk/strikeout ratios with defensive range factors, total chances or post-season awards, these two players —Trammell and Whitaker — will be voted-in by the Veterans Committee years from now for their special accomplishment and commitment to baseball — and what I think (or what you think) about the numbers will really not matter. As I remarked in the first part of this series, The Hall of Fame is today an institutional archive and museum, a place to learn about baseball. Everybody deserves to learn about baseball legacies as important as the one that lasted in Detroit for an entire generation — twenty years — from 1977-1996. There is no doubt that post-season awards and World Series appearances are some of the reasons we remember Reese and Rizzuto, as well as think of Larkin and Sandberg. But it is also the case that winning players with great legacies like Evers and Tinker can be inducted together by the veterans. If this is the case, Lou Whitaker may have to wait, but the 1984 WS MVP and 1987 should-have-been-MVP may yet have a fleeting chance.