August 8, 2013 at 7:01 pm

Tony Paul

Tigers are way overdue in retiring numbers of Whitaker, Trammell

Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker formed one of the best double-play combinations in baseball history. (Steve Perez / Detroit News)

Detroit — Don’t blame the kid for wanting No. 1.

Blame the Tigers for keeping No. 1 available all these years.

The Tigers should’ve retired Nos. 1 and 3 years ago, honoring second baseman Lou Whitaker and shortstop Alan Trammell — long before Jose Iglesias was given No. 1 last month after arriving in a trade with the Red Sox, and long before Gary Sheffield donned No. 3 after being acquired in a trade with the Yankees before the 2007 season.

But for reasons unspoken, the Tigers haven’t done it.

The last player’s number the Tigers retired was Willie Horton’s No. 23, in 2000, the year Comerica Park opened.

They also retired manager Sparky Anderson’s No. 11, in 2011, sadly only after his death.

I reached out to the Tigers over the last week looking for their official protocol for retiring numbers. I was fine with a written or verbal response. I received neither.

But best I can tell, judging by the numbers they have retired, here’s their policy: Aside from Horton — whose number retirement had more to do with what the Detroit native meant to the city, as a peacekeeper during the 1967 riots – the Tigers wait for the Baseball Hall of Fame to validate their own decisions.

Well, that is absurd.

And, frankly, it makes the Tigers look foolish.

(I say this knowing many fans disagree. They’ve told me as much over the past week or so, mostly saying they don’t know what the big deal is about a number. Of course, I suspect most of those fans are newer Tigers fans — on board only with this recent resurgence — who have no clue just how special Trammell and Whitaker were.)

What's the difference?

The Red Wings, also owned by Mike Ilitch, announced recently that they will retire Nick Lidstrom’s No. 5 this coming season, less than two years after he hung it up. They said they would’ve done it last year, had the lockout not messed with scheduling.

Now, Lidstrom is a certain Hall of Famer, but he isn’t eligible yet. Still, his number will hang in the Joe Louis rafters long before 1 and 3 are forever on the brick walls of Comerica Park.

Lidstrom, yes, will go down as one of the greatest defensemen in hockey history.

Well, Lou and Tram are, without question, the greatest double-play combination in the storied history of the Tigers, having played alongside each other from 1977-95. And in all of baseball, they rank right up there.

They won a World Series. They won gobs of Gold Gloves. They made a slew of All-Star teams. They combined for nearly 5,000 hits.

But they aren’t in the Hall of Fame, so the Tigers choose to sit by and do nothing.

Forget the fact that their exclusion from the Hall of Fame is border-line insanity.

Whitaker’s career statistics, per Baseball-Reference.com, are most comparable to Ryne Sandberg, the Cubs legend who was a third-ballot Hall of Fame selection. Whitaker didn’t even get enough votes his first go-around to make the second ballot. Sick.

Trammell, meanwhile, didn’t have Ozzie Smith’s flash — but didn’t have his bat, either. Trammell’s bat, of course, was much better. And it was on par with Reds great Barry Larkin, who made the Hall of Fame in 2012, his third try.

Trammell’s got three years left on his 15-year eligibility window — and he’s got no shot.

The two, Lou and Tram, will get into Cooperstown eventually, though it’ll be at the hands of the Veterans Committee. And there’s no telling when that might happen.

The Tigers, of course, believe Trammell and Whitaker should be members of the Hall of Fame. General manager Dave Dombrowski, just this past winter in a hotel suite in Nashville, Tenn., even went on an impassioned rant when the topic was brought up.

So, then, why not make a statement? Hall of Fame or not, retire their numbers. The duo meant that much to the franchise.

The same would go, obviously, for Jack Morris’ No. 47, but I’m guessing he makes the Hall of Fame next summer — on his 15th and final try — and, thus, will be honored soon by the Tigers, probably sometime in the weeks following his induction. That would follow the timeline used for retiring Al Kaline’s No. 6 in 1980.

Plenty of room

The Tigers have retired five of their players’ numbers: Charlie Gehringer’s No. 2, Hank Greenberg’s No. 5 Kaline’s No. 6, Hal Newhouser’s No. 16 and Horton’s No. 23. It would’ve been five, except Ty Cobb didn’t wear a number back in his day. Like every other team in Major League Baseball, they’ve also retired Jackie Robinon’s No. 42. With Anderson’s No. 11, that’s seven numbers that no longer are wearable by Tigers.

Not exactly running out, now, are we?

The storied Yankees, meanwhile, have retired 17 — including, for comparison’s sake, Don Mattingly’s No. 23. A peer of Trammell and Whitaker, Mattingly, unfairly I say, also doesn’t get any Hall of Fame consideration. Still, the Yankees wasted no time acknowledging what Donnie Baseball meant to the franchise. They hung up his number in 1997, just two years after he retired.

Yet, in Detroit, it’s been almost 20 years since Trammell and Whitaker played side by side at old Tiger Stadium. And they continue to be ignored.

It’s part of a bigger problem with the current Tigers regime, which, aside from putting Kaline and Horton in the front office as Dombrowski’s right-hand men, long has struggled to find ways to connect fans with the franchise’s colorful history. There’s no Tigers Hall of Fame (which would be a great place to pay tribute to long-forgotten greats like Norm Cash and Mickey Lolich). There’s no Old-Timers Day. There’s no museum. Rather, there are six statues — five of players, and one for legendary broadcaster Ernie Harwell — and several photo-heavy shrines, organized by decade, and scattered throughout the ballpark.

Not bad, but the Tigers can do better than that.

Hanging up Nos. 1 and 3 would be a great start. Who cares what the Hall of Fame says.

tpaul@detroitnews.com

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