Detroit — In a cruel twist of irony, the very Hall of Fame committee designed to provide a second chance for players snubbed by the baseball writers has just taken a big swing and miss on the case of legendary Tiger Lou Whitaker.
The Baseball Hall of Fame on Monday released its 10-person Modern Baseball Era ballot, and it includes 1984 Tigers Alan Trammell and Jack Morris.
But Whitaker, easily a top-three second baseman in his generation, is absent again.
Trammell and Morris are joined by seven other players, including former Michigan State star Steve Garvey, Southfield native Ted Simmons and Tommy John, Don Mattingly, Dale Murphy, Dave Parker and Luis Tiant, as well as longtime players association chief Marvin Miller.
Whitaker's career WAR, 74.9 according to Baseball-Reference.com, is higher than any player on the ballot, and nearly double that of Garvey's.
Yet, for whatever reason, his curious Hall-of-Fame snubbing rolls on — left off the Modern Baseball Era ballot, which examines figures whose greatest impact on the game came in the 1970s and '80s. This was the first year he was eligible, and suffered a fate similar to his lone year on the writers' ballot, 2001, when he received just 2.9 percent of the vote and fell off, never given the 14 additional years of consideration afforded the likes of Trammell and Morris.
The writers' gaffe was explained in a couple of ways. For starters, the 2001 ballot was stacked, with seven men who would eventually enter the Hall of Fame. Whitaker also was quiet, and a bit aloof (he once forget his jersey when attending an All-Star Game, and had to buy once at a merchandise stand), and right or wrong, politics and relationships creep into the writers' consideration.
The Modern Baseball Era committee has no such excuses, other than perhaps it didn't want a ballot overloaded with former Detroit Tigers. In a statement to The News on Monday, the Hall of Fame defended its ballot, which was put together by the Baseball Writers Association of America’s Historical Overview Committee.
“The BBWAA’s Historical Overview Committee is given complete autonomy to determine the ballot for each era’s election cycle, including in which era each candidate best fits,” the Hall of Fame said in the statement. “The HOC takes this difficult task very seriously, putting a great deal of thought and energy into the process, which includes the consideration of all eligible former players, managers, umpires, and executives.
“The Hall of Fame stands behind the HOC’s Modern Baseball Era ballot. The fact that there were many worthy candidates for consideration serves to underscore how difficult it is to make it onto this ballot.”
The Modern Baseball Era committee, made up of 16 as-yet unnamed members, will meet at the winter meetings at Disney World in early December to consider the cases of the 10 candidates. To get elected, a candidate must receive 75 percent of the votes, or 12 votes. Mr. Tiger Al Kaline has been a member of the committee in the past, and could lead a push for Trammell and Morris if he's again on the committee. It's unclear if he is.
Any candidates elected will be enshrined in July 2018, along with any candidates voted in by the writers. That announcement comes in January.
Through the mid-1990s, the 1984 Tigers and 1981 Los Angeles Dodgers remain the lone World Series champions without a Hall-of-Fame player. Both had Hall-of-Fame managers, Sparky Anderson and Tommy Lasorda, respectively.
"Tradition and history are the foundation of this organization — something that Jack and Tram spent many years building during their time wearing the Olde English 'D,'" the Tigers said in a statement Monday. "The two were teammates on the Tigers 1984 World Series championship team and combined for 11 All-Star Game appearances.
"We're confident that the committee will see fit for Jack and Tram to be enshrined in Cooperstown."
Of course, it’s worth noting that statement comes from a Tigers franchise that has yet to retire the numbers of Trammell, Whitaker or Morris.
Tigers fans have been very vocal and passionate about the lack of respect of their stars from the 1980s, particularly when it's come to the Hall-of-Fame voting process.
Morris, who won three championships including with the Minnesota Twins and Toronto Blue Jays, fell off the writers' ballot in 2014, and had a high-water mark of 67.7 percent, in 2013. Trammell, the 1984 World Series MVP, reached 40.9 percent in his last year on the ballot, 2016.
The writing was long on the wall for both men, that they probably wouldn't make it.
But at least they got an extended look, unlike Whitaker, whose 2001 fall-off is considered one of the greatest injustices in writers' voting, especially when contemporaries like Ryne Sandberg, Roberto Alomar, Joe Morgan and Craig Biggio sailed into Cooperstown.
"It's because we're Detroit, and not New York or Boston. You understand that?" late Tigers broadcaster Paul Carey told The News in 2014. "We're west of the Hudson River, and that's the problem."
If there was a silver lining to the writers overlooking the 1984 Tigers, it was the hope among the fans that the old veterans committee — now split into four committees, Modern Baseball (1970-87), Today's Game (1988-present) and Golden Days (1950-69) and Early Baseball (1871-1949) — it was the hope that Trammell and Whitaker, double-play partners for 19 seasons, could go into Cooperstown like they played, side by side.
That's still possible, of course, if Trammell doesn't make it this year — and without Whitaker on the ballot, there's always the chance his case might not be put in proper perspective and, thus, diminished.
Whitaker, 60, a three-time Gold Glove winner, won't get another chance until the 2019 winter meetings, at the earliest. That's the next time the Modern Era Committee will convene; it convenes twice every five years, while the other committees convene once every five years.
"He was among the best (second basemen) and respected by his peers," said Dan Petry, a longtime teammate of Whitaker's. "Many compared his stats to other Hall-of-Famers and he was certainly comparable."
Trammell, 59, played 20 seasons for the Tigers, and has Hall-of-Fame numbers comparable to the likes of fellow shortstops Ozzie Smith, Barry Larkin and Cal Ripken, easy Hall-of-Fame inductees. He won four Gold Gloves, and historians say he should've won the 1987 MVP Award. The theory is that year's winner, Toronto Blue Jays slugger George Bell, benefited for MVP ballots that were submitted before the season ended, and before the Tigers staged a furious rally to win the American League East title on the last day of the regular season. An MVP could've enhanced his Hall-of-Fame candidacy.
Morris, 62, has a claim to fame as the "Winningest Pitcher of the 1980s," but his 3.90 ERA would be the highest in Cooperstown, and he never won a Cy Young Award, which hurts him, like the lack of MVP hurts Trammell. While Trammell and Whitaker get big endorsements from the new-age sabermetrics community, Morris is more of a favorite of the old guard. Morris pitched one of the greatest games in MLB history, Game 7 of the 1991 World Series, battling Atlanta Braves ace John Smoltz — a Hall-of-Famer — and tossing a 10-inning shutout as the Twins won, 1-0.
Garvey, 68, played 19 seasons, with the Dodgers and San Diego Padres, after he played baseball at Michigan State. He was on that 1981 Dodgers championship team, and played for the 1984 Padres who lost to the Tigers, in five games, in the World Series.
Simmons, 68, played 21 seasons, with the St. Louis Cardinals, Milwaukee Brewers and Atlanta Braves, and has numbers that compare favorably to other Hall-of-Fame catchers, such as Gary Carter, even though Simmons, like Whitaker, lasted just one year on the writers' ballot, 1994.