Trammell shrugs at past, shows loyalty to Tigers

Lynn Henning
The Detroit News

Lakeland, Fla. — In a crowded clubhouse Tuesday morning, players dressed for their first day of full-squad workouts at Tigertown's complex. And one of the men stepping between lockers, players, bags and too many people in too small a space was Lance Parrish, who knew this routine well from his playing days in Detroit during the 1970s and '80s.

He got reacquainted with this same team and this same spring-training setting 12 years ago when he joined the Tigers as a coach on the staff of a new manager, Alan Trammell.

Parrish is now manager at Double A Erie. Another coach from that staff, Bruce Fields, is Detroit's roving minor-league batting instructor and he, likewise, was in uniform and on the field for Tuesday's opening ceremonies. A third coach from Trammell's staff, Kirk Gibson, will arrive at Lakeland in a few days as he prepares for his latest stint, analyzing the Tigers from FSD's television booth.

As for that former manager who played for the Tigers with all three, and who in tandem with his staff was excused after the 2005 season, he, too, was back in that cream-and-navy Detroit uniform Tuesday.

Trammell has rejoined the Tigers. He is a special assistant to Tigers front-office chief Dave Dombrowski, who decided to dismiss all four after they had been at the helm for some particularly rough times from 2003-05.

And so a person naturally wonders: Where are the bruises? The bitterness? The burned bridges? The memories of having been tossed from a job at which a manager and his cohorts had no real chance of succeeding when they were brought on, as much to please nostalgic fans as to supervise a hopelessly difficult reconstruction job in 2003?

Moreover, how do you explain this ongoing Tigers reunion, which includes Al Kaline and Willie Horton, who played on the 1968 world championship team, and who likewise have lockers waiting each spring and uniforms they wear, Kaline especially, during spring drills as part of their jobs as special assistants to Dombrowski?

"It just feels right," said Trammell, who three months ago agreed to become one of of those multitasking special assistants to the GM, after he spent time as a coach with the Cubs and Diamondbacks. "I did something I wanted to do, and now I'm back full circle, and I'm glad it happened."

Beginning with putting on that Tigers uniform.

"I was talking with Al Kaline this morning," Trammell said, 38 years after he first played for the Tigers as a rookie shortstop, "and we were talking about how this is still such a classy uniform. The Old English D.

"It always looks good. It feels good."

Feeling loyalty

This does not happen with every team in baseball, let alone in professional sports. Alumni don't always return. They are particularly inclined to split if they had a managing or coaching job that didn't work out. Pride is everything to a big-league baseball man, and being bumped from your job can be scarring.

But it doesn't work this way with the Tigers.

Look elsewhere in that Tigers clubhouse Tuesday.

Mike Maroth, who had the bad timing to pitch for the historically awful 2003 Tigers and lose 21 games, was wearing his usual coast-to-coast smile as he got ready for workouts. Maroth has been working the past two seasons as a Tigers minor-league pitching coach.

Trammell's blood is particularly thick, as is his skin. He didn't overreact when Dombrowski decided after 2005 that he needed a new man, Jim Leyland, for a new brand of team. Dombrowski, in fact, offered Trammell a front-office job with the Tigers, and it wasn't out of spite that Trammell said no.

"That was 10 years ago," Trammell said, sitting in front of his locker, just outside manager Brad Ausmus' office, a half-hour after workouts had wrapped up. "And let's not forget Dave offered me a position. This one was on me (decision to leave).

"I just felt there were still things I wanted to do. So, I went to work with Lou Piniella (then the Cubs manager, who hired Trammell in 2006), and then I worked with Gibby (Gibson was Diamondbacks manager and brought Trammell on staff). I felt, in my own mind, I still wanted to do something that would keep me close to the field.

"And so here I was — a lifelong American Leaguer who learned all about the National League. And it is a little different."

Mr. Versatile

Trammell has a delightfully diverse bag of jobs for the Tigers, "unscripted," as he says. He will do some scouting and some coaching. He can work with infielders, with hitters or with baserunners, as he steadily is doing during spring drills, right down to throwing batting practice Tuesday.

Ausmus said Trammell, whom the skipper wants on the field as much as possible, will help on tactics and strategies, on instruction, on personnel evaluation. On anything a man of Trammell's vast years in baseball can bring to a team, which is unlimited.

Trammell credits one man, fundamentally, for crafting a culture where the old stars still feel as if they belong — as if they never left. He says it is all about Tigers owner Mike Ilitch. And then he mentions Dombrowski and that conversation from 2005, when he was asked to stay, and how the invitation came to be repeated three months ago.

He talks also of a phone conversation with Ausmus. The newest Tigers manager had called him last autumn, presumably, Trammell thought, to shoot the breeze. They're old friends who were Tigers teammates for a spell.

They gabbed for a long while. Trammell, who was about to say goodbye, instead heard:

"Wait, wait, wait. I'm not done. I've got something to ask you."

Ausmus wondered, just ahead of Dombrowski's more formal offer, if he'd be interested in a reunion.

Trammell remembers Ausmus' parting words: "He told me, 'You should be a Tiger.'

"It's a great feeling," said a man who knows well what everyone has always known.

He belongs along that row of lockers where Kaline and Horton also dress. He belongs, ultimately, to Detroit.