DETROIT — Lou Whitaker, wearing a black brimmed hat, trotted out to the mound as Alan Trammell settled in at home plate. But "Sweet Lou" wasn’t going to be throwing out a ceremonial first pitch to "Tram" before Monday night’s game. Whitaker waved Trammell out and they both jogged to the middle of the infield — the place that will always be home for the heroes of the 1984 Detroit Tigers.
The teammates of 19 seasons, from 1977 through 1995, decided to turn one more double play. The sellout crowd at Comerica Park buzzed in anticipation of the moment, and Whitaker underhanded the ball toward Trammell as he approached second base. Trammell caught the ball, pivoted and flipped a rainbow that ’84 teammate Dave Bergman hauled down at first base.
It wasn’t a reminder of how gracefully they combined to win seven Gold Gloves, but it did bring to mind the joy they played the game with. Bruce Springsteen’s "Glory Days" blared over the public address system, and the 30th anniversary reunion of Detroit’s last World Series champions had reached its crescendo.
The group had met for dinner Sunday night, and Whitaker and pitcher Dave Rozema made a side trip to the ball field that remains where Tiger Stadium once stood. They met the media as a group before answering questions from fans for over an hour, and then took to the field to watch videos of their championship season on the scoreboard while being honored.
The fans — both those who watched them play and those who have heard the stories — could not get enough of them.
"The support doesn’t surprise me," Trammell told me before taking the field. "These are special people, blue-collar people who appreciate hard play. It was our pleasure to play for them, and I don’t know how to repay them. This was 30 years ago. Holy (crap)! And yet it’s still so special to everybody."
Trammell was the World Series MVP that year, and has received a fair number of Hall of Fame votes from writers every winter. He’s gotten as high as 36.8 percent of the vote — nearly half the required 75 percent for election — and has two chances left.
However, Whitaker was gone after his initial season of voting eligibility in 2001 after failing to get the minimum required to stay on the ballot with 2.9 percent. Right fielder Kirk Gibson (2.5 percent) and catcher Lance Parrish (1.7 percent) also dropped off the ballot that same year.
Still, there’s no denying that Whitaker and Trammell have statistics that match up with Hall of Famers at their positions. Trammell sees a day when the veteran’s committee could vote them in together, and Whitaker agrees.
"That’s the way it should be," Whitaker said. "I wouldn’t feel right going in if Tram wasn’t in. We played together. Our numbers are the same. We were a combination. Tram and I will get there. Everybody is rushing. You don’t rush greatness.
"We’ll wait. We’ll wait. That day will come. We know we deserve to be in there. What’s good about bragging about it? Telling you guys how good we were? We know how good we were."
Jack Morris, the staff ace in ’84 with 19 wins, has come closer than anybody from that team to getting voted in. He received 67.7 percent of the vote two years ago, but last winter failed to get in on his 15th and final allowed ballot. He, too, will need a veteran’s committee nod to reach Cooperstown.
Morris, who lives in Minnesota and had broadcasting duties Monday for a Twins game, did not attend the ceremony. But he recorded messages that played on the scoreboard. When he was in town recently with the Twins, we spoke about his no-hitter in 1984 and that special season.
"I’m very proud of my guys," Morris said. "Tram and Lou were as good as anyone in the game at that time at their positions. Lance just meant the world to me. Heck, he had to block all of that stuff I threw in the dirt (with split-finger fastballs). Dan Petry, Milt Wilcox and even Rosie (Rozema), as crazy as he was, were such a part of us. And nobody can deny Gibby’s effect on charging us up. I’m just so damn proud of all of them.
"We loved each other. We played our (butts) off for each other. I sense that feeling with all really good teams. I covered the 2012 World Series and I could sense the conviction San Francisco’s players had. It was just a little more than what Detroit had going, and it was the difference-maker in that series."
This was 30 years ago. Holy (crap)! And yet it’s still so special to everybody.
Morris was known to send a zinger Justin Verlander’s way until he developed into the American League’s MVP and Cy Young Award winner in 2011. Who knows? Maybe he was trying to charge up these Tigers by saying that. Or maybe he was just being brutally honest — which always came naturally to Jack.
The ’84 Tigers were a much more volatile mix than the current Detroit players. Gibson and Morris had no patience where failure was concerned.
Rozema, who also was Gibson’s brother-in-law, recalled one game.
"(Gibson) would do anything to get a victory," Rozema said. "To start one game, I threw ball one and then ball two. Somebody shouted, ‘C’mon, throw a strike!’ I thought, ‘Who the hell said that?’"
It was his brother-in-law.
"Now, when we get together, we joke about how old we look," said infielder-outfielder Barbaro Garbey. "But you know what? It’s really good to have our family together again."
They’ll always be related by way of the magical season of ’84.