Henning: Trammell and Morris shake off earlier wounds

By Lynn Henning
The Detroit News
Alan Trammell, left, and Jack Morris helped deliver Detroit’s last World Series championship in 1984. On Sunday, they'll both be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Cooperstown, New York — There was a press conference Saturday at a gymnasium a couple of miles from the Baseball Hall of Fame’s downtown museum.

Among six golden-oldie players who showed up 24 hours before they were to join four others in getting their Cooperstown plaques were Alan Trammell and Jack Morris.

These are the one-time Tigers who Sunday will be memorialized. They are the headliners from Detroit’s last championship season and era. Each man has his own, unique relationship with the Tigers cosmos, Trammell’s having lasted six years longer than Morris, who spread his talent across four teams.

Focus, first, on Trammell.

And, focus, for sure, on a point that cannot be overstated during a weekend when Tigers bosses rented a house and held two nights of parties to toast a pair of eternal baseball stars.

Trammell has made this a happy Tigers reunion, not only for how he played shortstop for two decades, but for something he did in the autumn of 2005 and beyond.

More: Henning: Cooperstown's aura unlike any other in sports

More: Trammell and Morris: Hall of Famers left imprint on Tigers

He never shot back at the club he loved when the team he adored fired him as manager at the end of the 2005 season.

He could have, perhaps should have, unloaded on an organization that pretty much exploited him and his name. The Tigers hired him at the end of the 2002 season in a bid to please fans and steal some luster from those '80s teams that were so very good and so widely worshiped.

Trammell had not before managed. Never mind, the Tigers said. We know you’re the essence of baseball skill and smarts and we think you’ll do just fine, even if we also know this is going to be one mess of a baseball team you’re inheriting.

They made the same pitch to a couple of Trammell’s old '80s shipmates: Kirk Gibson and Lance Parrish, who signed on as the new skipper’s coaches.

They came aboard just in time to lose in 2003 the 119 games any manager and staff were destined to lose with a roster so god-awful. The Tigers dropped 90 games in 2004 and 91 a year later.

And then, just as some young talent (Justin Verlander, Joel Zumaya, etc.) was about to crash Comerica Park, along with a few incoming elders and free agents (Kenny Rogers, Todd Jones, and a healing Magglio Ordonez), at the very point kids like Curtis Granderson were beginning to blossom, the Tigers said to Trammell and Co.:

Thanks very much, but goodbye.

Perpetual decency

It was all bad timing — for a manager who never again has managed. Trammell, though, never shot back, never burned a bridge, never displayed an iota of the bitterness that somewhere within him bubbled.

Dave Dombrowski was then general manager and in the autumn of 2005 did in fact need Jim Leyland as a follow-up skipper. Dombrowski’s consolation offer to Trammell was an organizational job that might have mirrored the coaching-scouting position Trammell now holds with the Tigers.

(And, to level with you, Trammell is handling with such deftness his new duties, which span professional baseball’s spectrum, his bosses sound like campaign managers when they talk about Trammell’s pluses.)

But return to that Monday after the 2005 season when Trammell was told he was done running the Tigers.

There was no return fire from a man who had been with a single club since he was 18 years old.

“Just not my style,” Trammell said Saturday as he and Morris, each dressed in turquoise golf shirts bearing the logo “INDUCTION” talked with media.

He reminded a press crowd that those years had not been wasted.

“I think back to all the coaches,” Trammell said, “and we did some things right. Three years after we lost 119, that team was in the World Series. I know it’s on my record, but these were young guys (players) on those teams who at that time needed to grow.”

When it ended, his time as skipper, Trammell weighed Dombrowski’s special-assistant offer but decided he needed to get away. To another town. To another club.

“I felt at the time I still wanted to stay on the field,” Trammell said, meaning he wanted to work, if not as a manager, as an everyday big-league staffer. “I had to get away.” 

He sat out 2006 before joining the Cubs as a bench coach. Then, in a reversal of their time in Detroit, he hooked on as Gibson’s bench coach when both were with the Diamondbacks.

Four years ago, he was back with the Tigers. No person was happier than late owner Mike Ilitch, who revered Trammell and wanted him back in a family from which Trammell, in his mind, had never totally separated, even after he had been brought in 12 years earlier for what amounted to a three-season suicide mission.

The Tigers and Trammell, as well as the fan galaxy, are celebrating this weekend. And that, in great part, is because of Trammell’s perpetual decency that made for an everlasting marriage with a team from Detroit.

Burning passion

So, too, are the Tigers feting Morris, who was his old magnetic self as he talked Saturday about a Hall of Fame plaque that might never have meant as much to a player as it means to a right-handed pitcher forged from fire.

They are different people, Trammell and Morris. Trammell always seemed to take in stride his near-miss Cooperstown bid. Morris took it hard when the writers fell short of voting him into the Hall, leaving the Modern Day oversight committee to vote in each man last December.

Sunday, they’ll join Chipper Jones, Vladimir Guerrero, Jim Thome, and Trevor Hoffman, all of whom made it conventionally when the ballots were counted in January.

“The answer to that,” Morris said, when asked about missing on the early ballots, “is that it didn’t matter.”

Great response.

And yet you can see in Morris the validation a Hall of Fame plaque brings to his career and to his persona when winning on the field was a man’s incendiary, all-consuming passion during 18 big-league years.

His mandate, personally adopted, was to finish every game and to seal a victory.

He talked about it Saturday when someone asked about quality starts — a sound statistic that measures a starter’s worth. It was conceived by former Free Press baseball writer John Lowe and is conferred when a starting pitcher works six innings and allows three or fewer earned runs.

“A quality start for me,” Morris said, all but snorting, “was a nine-inning shutout.”

How, he was asked, did he survive when his manager was Sparky Anderson, the notorious Captain Hook whose favorite pastime was yanking pitchers?         

“I’ve got to believe the National League rules played into that,” Morris said, speaking of Anderson’s earlier years with the Reds.

“The truth be known, he let me rot out there a couple of times: 13 earned runs one game, 12 earned runs a little later.

“But it taught me an unbelievable lesson — that there was nowhere to hide. You’ve got 35,000 people in the stands and you’re getting your brains beat out, and you’ve got to figure it out.

“If you never let ‘em fail,” Morris said of young big-league pitchers, “you’ll never get ‘em past the wall.”

These were Saturday lessons from two Tigers who have placed themselves above the thousands who have worn, or who have attempted to wear, a big-league Tigers uniform. Trammell and Morris are the latest to unite with Cobb, Kaline, Gehringer, Greenberg, Cochrane, Newhouser, Crawford, Heilmann, and others.

They made Detroit their starscape during baseball years that will forever shine. And for all their joy at making Cooperstown, what Trammell and Morris may never fully understand is how much Detroit’s fans this weekend are sharing in their glory.

Induction day

What: Tigers greats Alan Trammell and Jack Morris will be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

When: Sunday, 1:30 p.m.

Where: Cooperstown, N.Y.

TV: MLB Network

Notable: Four other players will be inducted with Trammell and Morris: Vladimir Guerrero, Trevor Hoffman, Chipper Jones and Jim Thome.