Lou and Tram two-for-one in 2016?

DETROIT — The winds, they are a changing.

I once thought Tigers shortstop Alan Trammell had no chance of being enshrined in Cooperstown. Trammell received just 15.7 percent of the vote by members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America during his first year on the ballot, in 2002, and was so far from the 75 percent required to get elected.

But last year, in his 11th season on the ballot, Trammell spiked to 36.8 percent. Although he still needs to roughly double his vote total to make it, two things have happened.

First, sabermetricians have fallen in love with Trammell and his 19-year double-play partner, Lou Whitaker. They are taking a look at the numbers and seeing what most voters have been missing: Trammell and Whitaker have statistics that stack up with shortstops and second basemen already in the Hall of Fame.

Second, Trammell now is in excellent position to be voted in by the Veterans Committee if he never reaches 75 percent in the 15 seasons allowed. Red Schoendienst, in his 11th season on the ballot, had the same 36.8 percent of the vote as Trammell and was a Veterans Committee pick in 1989. Phil Rizzuto and Bill Mazeroski, two other middle-infielder committee selections, were at 26.0 and 33.5 percent, respectively, in their 11th seasons.

I spoke to Trammell on the telephone recently, right before he played a round of golf near his home in Del Mar, Calif., and asked what makes him Hall worthy.   

“I was an all-around player and that’s what hurts me,” Trammell said. “My All-Star Games (six) and Gold Gloves (four) are not as many as, say, Ozzie Smith. I didn’t stand out as elite, and that could be true. But I was a darned good player, and the support I receive is very much appreciated.

“But if I was a little short, I’ll still sleep well at night. And our team was darned good, too. You know that ad where they say they are ‘very comfortable in their skin?’ Well, I’m very comfortable in my skin.”

Despite his spike in votes, Trammell doesn’t believe he’ll be voted in before his final season on the ballot in 2015. But he does hope that the Veterans Committee will someday enshrine him and Whitaker.

“I’m not sitting by the phone on the announcement day,” Trammell said. “I’m not at that level. I had a nice spike, but will it happen again? Will I go up 2 percent or 10 percent? Will it be less? I don’t know.

“But I am entitled to my opinion, and I don’t think I will go in this way. But in a few years, when it goes to the Veterans Committee, I am hoping the Lou and Tram inclusion will get some support. And I would really love to go in that way, with Lou.”

BY COMMITTEE

The Veterans Committee is made up of three different groups that select players on a rotating basis. The Expansion Era (1973-present) selects in 2013, so Trammell and Whitaker would get their first consideration in 2016. Ironically, Ozzie Smith has been a member of the Expansion Era committee that would pan their credentials.

“Trammell’s offensive numbers, across the board, clobber Ozzie Smith’s,” said CBSSports.com Senior Baseball Columnist Scott Miller, who votes for Trammell. “And Trammell might not have been as flashy defensively as Smith, but he was an outstanding shortstop. Smith sailed in with 91.7 percent of the vote (in 2002, when Trammell got 15.7).

“I get that Trammell’s Hall candidacy is debatable. He’s not a slam dunk. But there is no way on God’s green earth that the discrepancy between Ozzie and Trammell should be that steep.

“The other thing with Trammell is, he played in a great era of shortstops that changed our definition of the position. Cal Ripken and Robin Yount, along with Trammell, turned it into an offensive position. Ripken and Yount are in the Hall, and I firmly believe Trammell should be, too.”
 
Trammell batted .285 over 20 seasons with 2,365 hits, 185 home runs and 1,003 RBI. He was the 1984 World Series MVP and finished second to Toronto slugger George Bell for the 1987 AL MVP award.

Smith hit .262 over 19 seasons with 2,460 hits, 28 homers and 793 RBI. He batted .173 with no homers and three RBI in 75 World Series at-bats, and finished second to Cubs outfielder Andre Dawson for the 1987 NL MVP. Smtih did win those 13 Gold Gloves with 15 All-Star appearances, but didn’t have to compete in those areas with American Leaguers Yount and Ripken as Trammell did.

Future Hall of Fame manager Tony La Russa looked at Trammell’s contemporaries in Cooperstown and told Miller, “Clearly, you’d take Cal, because Cal hit for more power and Cal was a clear first-ballot Hall of Famer. But I don’t know of anybody after Cal you’d rate as a shortstop higher than Alan Trammell.”

The Tigers actually drafted Trammell (San Diego Kearny High, second round) and Smith (Cal San Luis Obispo, seventh round) together in 1976. But while Trammell signed, Smith went back to college and went in the fourth round the following year to the Padres.

What might the Tigers have looked like with Smith at short and Trammell at third?

THE OTHER HALF

Whitaker, taken in the fifth round in 1975, played second next to Trammell from 1977 to 1995, then Tram played one last season without Lou. When they closed down Tiger Stadium in 1999 and all of the past players came out of the center-field tunnel like the cornfield in “Field of Dreams,” Al Kaline was supposed to be the last one out on the field. But he deferred to Tram and Lou, the game’s longest-running teammates in history.

Their career numbers were so eerily similar. Lou had just four more hits (2,369) and 81 more RBI (1,084) than Tram. Their slugging percentages — Lou’s .426 to Tram’s .415 — were also close.

Still, when Whitaker — though statistically ranking right up there with several second basemen in Cooperstown — was on the Hall ballot in 2001, he received a measly 15 votes. His 2.9 percent take was below the 5.0 required to stay on the ballot, and he simply vanished.

These days, he’s being noticed again, along with his shortstop partner.

Matt Snyder, CBSSports.com MLB Senior Blogger, wrote recently: “How one defines ‘the best double-play combination in baseball history’ is subjective and thus open to interpretation. One thing is certain, however, and that is that in light of what they did together, the Trammell-Whitaker combination is pretty historically underrated and certainly has a case for being the best ever.”

Snyder used the Wins Above Replacement ratings of all double-play combos with at least seven years together. Trammell and Whitaker topped the list with 140.5 WAR points.

Hall of Famers Jackie Robinson and Pee Wee Reese were next at 106.3. Longevity factored into those totals because the Brooklyn Dodgers pair spent only 10 seasons together, and they would’ve totaled 202.0 had they played 19 years at the same high level, which is doubtful.

The other two Cooperstown duos Snyder ranked in his top nine would have ranked below Tram and Lou, even if they had played 19 years together and duplicated their WAR ratings. Joe Tinker and Johnny Evers of the Cubs totaled 77.3 WAR points from 1902-12, but would’ve had 133.5 over 19 years at the same rates. Luis Aparicio and Nellie Fox of the White Sox totaled 44.8 from 1956-62, but would’ve had 121.6 over 19 years at the same rates.

Any way you look at it, the case is building for a Tram-and-Lou push among Veterans Committee members, and perhaps someday they’ll stand together on a stage in Cooperstown holding plaques.

That’s Tram’s dream.