Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker could eventually go into the Hall of Fame together with a veteran's committee vote. (The Detroit News)
Lou Whitaker and Alan Trammell’s exclusion from the baseball Hall of Fame is a mistake long past due to be corrected.
Any declaration like that is going to be a bit of personal opinion, of course, but it doesn’t take long to make a pretty good argument to back the stance. Fortunately in this day and age, a lot of people have already paved the way.
Of course, Whitaker received just 2.9 percent of the vote from the baseball writers in his first year of eligibility, putting a swift end to his bid before the debate could percolate more in his favor. His only hope now is a gift from the veteran’s committee, which could honor him as early as 2015.
Then we have Trammell. The likelihood of his being elected to the Hall by the BBWAA remains low, though his support has steadily increased over the years. One-third of voters marked his name on their ballots last year, but with only a few years of eligibility remaining Trammell will almost certainly fall short of the three-quarter mark necessary.
Those who disdain sabermetrics may be surprised to hear this, but those who regularly use sabermetrics continue to make the best argument for the pair’s inclusion. In fact, it’s hard to throw a stone on the Internet without hitting an argument in their favor.
After Whitaker fell off the ballot, ESPN’s sabermetric-oriented SweetSpot blog in 2011 declared the exclusion the “BBWAA’s worst mistake.”
It just might be. Using Fangraph’s Wins Above Replacement, a stat that attempts to put a value to a player’s contribution on offense and defense, Whitaker ranked ninth among second baseman with a career fWAR of 68.1, or about seven wins more than fellow 1980s second baseman Ryne Sandberg. The Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg, mind you.
Bill James, who now works in the Red Sox’s front office after years analyzing the sport, ranked Whitaker the 13th best second baseman of all time.
As for the more traditional stats, Whitaker ranked well there, too.
In the SweetSpot article Bill Parker noted, “When Sweet Lou retired, among players to have primarily played second base, he was seventh all time in plate appearances (and less than one season's worth away from third), ninth in hits, ninth in doubles, fifth in homers, eighth in runs, ninth in RBI, and fourth in walks.”
Pretty good figures for a guy who didn’t make much of an impression on voters.
So why didn’t Whitaker get more consideration? It’s hard to say. Maybe playing alongside Trammell made some of his feats appear plain.
Meanwhile Trammell can’t get in Cooperstown, either. Maybe it was playing next to Whitaker on a Tigers team few realize won 829 games during the 1980s. Or maybe it was due to missing out on the 1987 Most Valuable Player award he deserved. Or maybe Trammell’s problem is that he happened to be one of the all-time best shortstops during a golden era of shortstops.
Like with Whitaker, sabermetrics helps make an easy argument for Trammell. James ranked him ninth all-time among shortstops in 2001. His Fangraphs WAR figure of 63.7 leaves him a small a handful behind Hall of Fame members Barry Larkin (67.7), Ozzie Smith (67.6) and Robin Yount (66.5).
Jay Jaffe, who now writes for Sports Illustrated after spending time with sabermetrics site Baseball Prospectus, notes that Trammell’s stats compare favorably with that group, making a solid argument for his inclusion in the Hall.
“Trammell lags ever so slightly behind all but Smith as a hitter, but he was the third-best fielder of the bunch according to (advanced defensive stat) Total Zone,” Jaffe wrote. “In short, there doesn’t seem to be anything to suggest that he doesn’t belong in the Hall if those four contemporaries are in.”
As for traditional stats: Trammell batted .285, with a .352 on-base percentage and .415 slugging average, compiling 412 doubles, 185 home runs and 1,003 RBI, remarkable numbers for a shortstop. Larkin, who was elected with 86.4 percent of votes, put up similar figures across the board. Trammell also won three Silver Slugger awards and four Gold Gloves, while making six All-Star Game rosters and taking home World Series MVP honors.
Maybe it’s wishful thinking hoping the BBWAA is actually doing us all a favor by relegating Whitaker and Trammell to the sidelines for now. As early as 2016, the veteran’s committee will have an opportunity to put baseball’s longest-running double-play duo in the Hall of Fame together.
“It would be special to go in together,” Trammell told SI earlier this year. “If I'm allowed my thoughts, that really would be very special. It's never been done like that before. Whether or not that happens, who knows?”
All we know is that individually they deserve it. Making it as a pair would right a wrong that’s gone on too long.