Tigers great Trammell is 'fine' with Hall of Fame snub

Lynn Henning
The Detroit News
Tigers great Alan Trammell is on the Hall of Fame ballot for the 15th and final time.

In two weeks, he will join the Tigers in Detroit for another Winter Caravan that all but drops the starter's flag on a new baseball season.

In six weeks, he will be at Lakeland, Fla., as the team for which he now works as a special assistant, the Tigers, reports to Tigertown for spring camp.

And in six months, Alan Trammell, barring a major surprise, will be absent from a group converging for the Hall of Fame induction at Cooperstown, N.Y.

Trammell’s final year of eligibility for a writers-approved Hall of Fame plaque expires with the 2016 ballot. Winners will be announced today, with Ken Griffey, Jr., the most likely to have won election.

"I'm fine," Trammell said Tuesday during a phone conversation from his home in San Diego. "People ask me about it all the time. But things haven't changed."

Trammell, who next month turns 58, spent 20 seasons in the big leagues, all with the Tigers, as one of baseball's best shortstops from the past 100-plus years.

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But for all of his consistency, which heightens some immense single-season production, his career numbers were not gaudy (.285 career average, 2,365 hits). Nor was his timing particularly good as he played for a mid-market, Midwestern team during an era that largely preceded cable television saturation, as well as the Internet. All are regarded as logistics and vehicles that have shined brighter light on some recent candidacies and have perhaps combined to lessen Trammell's aura.

To win Hall of Fame induction a player is required to be checked on 75 percent of all ballots. In this, his 15th and final year on the ballot, prospects are all but nil for a man who last year got 25.1 percent of votes from the 600-plus Baseball Writers Association of America members who voted.

Trammell's odds are at least as long this year with the arrival of Griffey Jr. as a first-time candidate, and with a ballot that limits voters to 10 choices at a time when the ballot has been hit with an influx of heavy contenders.

"If I were knocking on the door, it would be different," Trammell said, citing 11th-hour inductions of Goose Gossage and Jim Rice, each of whom had been close to election before their ballot-time expired.

Trammell's first year on the ballot, 2002, saw him draw 15.7 percent of all votes. Ten years later he peaked at 36.9.

Jay Jaffe, a highly regarded baseball analyst for SportsIllustrated.com, has crunched Trammell's career numbers and makes the case for Trammell's Hall of Fame stripes.

Alan Trammell

Jaffe believes Trammell qualifies, alone, via a much-respected metric for establishing big-league productivity, WAR, which stands for wins above replacement. It's a metric that is highly flattering to Trammell during some of his peak seasons.

Trammell's cumulative WAR was 70.4, compared with the average Hall of Fame shortstop's 66.7.

When diving into more precise comparisons of Trammell and contemporary Hall of Famers — Cal Ripken, Ozzie Smith, Robin Yount, and Barry Larkin — the numbers likewise elevate Trammell.

Trammell, in fact, finishes fourth among the five, and slightly above Larkin, who had a lesser WAR score, as well as fewer hits (2,340). Larkin's advantage came in higher career batting average (.295), on-base percentage (.371 to .352) and slugging percentage (.444 to .415).

"That's the one a lot of people bring up," said Trammell, acknowledging his close comparison to Larkin, whom Trammell says, emphatically, belongs in Cooperstown. "And the numbers are very close."

But, of course, this isn't Trammell's lament, solely, this failure to be taken more seriously by Hall voters. He agrees his old double-play partner, Lou Whitaker, also deserves a plaque.

Analysts like Jaffe tend to agree that Whitaker probably earned induction during his 19 seasons with the Tigers when he joined with Trammell to be the most accomplished double-play combo in baseball history.

Whitaker, though, inexplicably failed to get 5 percent of the vote, the bare minimum to remain on the ballot, during his first year of Hall eligibility in 2001.

"You can't lump us together — that's now how it works in voting — but Lou didn't get to stay on the ballot, which I think is a crying shame," Trammell said of a player whose career numbers have taken on greater analytical sheen in recent years.

"But I do know our names are there."

By that, Trammell concedes there is one shot remaining: a review process that can induct players upon further review.

The system is not designed for immediate results. The one-time Veterans Committee now consists of three different committees, which alternate reviewing baseball luminaries from different eras.

Trammell's and Whitaker's most immediate shot with the Expansion Era Committee would arrive in 2020.

Baseball students and celebrities on the level of Jim Bowden, a former big-league general manager who writes for ESPN.com, and who is a fixture on MLB Network Radio, believe Trammell will eventually get his plaque.

"That would be the ultimate," Trammell said, "but while I'm not trying to make light of the Hall of Fame, it was more a case of me being grateful to have played on some great teams, to have played good defense, and to have developed as a hitter.

"It's a great individual accomplishment, the Hall of Fame. But it was always about being part of the team, me being blessed to have done nothing but be in baseball since I came out of high school, to have just done my job, and to have been part of the group here in Detroit.

"I stand by that. If Lou and I someday make it, well, that would be very gratifying. But I'm fine with all of this."