Sparky knew ’87 MVP snub would hurt Tram’s HOF chances

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Did missing out on the 1987 Most Valuable Player Award cost Alan Trammell a spot in the Hall of Fame?

One man, long ago, had the vision to realize it might.

That man was Sparky Anderson.

When the 1987 MVP vote came out, and Blue Jays slugger George Bell edged out Trammell, Anderson called up his star shortstop. Anderson was upset; Trammell was not.

“ ‘Gosh,’ he says, ‘I wish you would’ve won that, it would’ve helped you for the Hall of Fame kind of thing,’ ” Trammell said in a recent chat with The Detroit News. “I’m like, I was still a young man, I’m listening but I’m not listening, you know? I might have another shot at it.”

This is Trammell’s 15th and final year on the writers’ Hall of Fame ballot, and when results are announced Wednesday, he again will fall well short of the 75 percent needed for election.

It’s puzzling to many in Detroit, this lack of support.

But there’s no question that 1987 MVP would’ve helped his case, at least nationally. Just look at former Reds star shortstop Barry Larkin. His numbers and defense were similar to Trammell’s. They both played a long time for one team; they both finished with one World Series championship; they both won their share of Gold Gloves and made their share of All-Star teams.

The difference: Larkin won an MVP, in 1995, and Trammell missed out on his best shot.

Bell had a great year for the Blue Jays in 1987, no question. He batted .308 with 47 homers, 134 RBIs and a whopping .957 OPS. Trammell, batting cleanup most of that year for the Tigers, had his best season, statistically, hitting .343 with 28 homers, 105 RBIs and a .402 on-base percentage.

Because of defense, Trammell slaughtered Bell in WAR, 8.2-5.0, before anybody knew what WAR was.

There is one theory out there that many MVP voters cast their ballots before the season was over, when it looked almost certain the Blue Jays were going to win the American League East. The Tigers trailed by 31/2 games with eight games to go.

Bell ended up with 16 first-place votes, to 12 for Trammell. The points were 332-311, one of the closer MVP elections of all-time.

“George Bell had a tremendous year,” Trammell said. “I didn’t play the game, I never did, for those type of things.

“Now that I’m an old man and I look back, yeah, it would’ve been nice.”

Trammell, 57, never again made a serious case for MVP, as injuries started to take their toll following the 1987 season. After 1987, only once did he play more than 128 games in a season before retiring following the 1996 season.