It's been 21 years since Alan Trammell, the slick-fielding shortstop with the lightning-quick stroke at the plate, last played in a major-league game.
His time for induction into Baseball's Hall of Fame might finally be arriving next month.
Trammell, by most experts' accounts, is the favorite to be elected among the 10 candidates who are on the Modern Baseball Era ballot, which will be heavily discussed and voted on at the early December Winter Meetings, in the shadows of Disney World.
And make no mistake, becoming a Hall-of-Famer would be a most magical moment for Trammell. But the Tigers legend finds himself conflicted, too – given that 10-person ballot, stunningly, doesn't include his long-time double-play partner, Lou Whitaker.
Let's take that back. He's not that conflicted. When asked recently, during a lengthy conversation with The Detroit News, if he could get the call next month or wait two more years until Whitaker is eligible to get on the ballot – thus creating the possibility of the two of them being enshrined like they played, side by side – Trammell really didn't hesitate.
"My dream has always been to go in together, and I stand by that," Trammell, now an adviser in the Tigers' front office, said shortly after arriving home in California following a work trip to the ballclub's Dominican Republic academy. "To me, that would the ultimate story.
"The two of us together is a better story than one or the other. That's kind of how I always viewed that. I've been saying that for years. I think that's a darn good story, one of the better ones.
"Two guys who played together for 19 years at the major-league level, and stayed with one team their whole careers, and by the way did pretty darn good themselves – that's just my dream. I'm entitled to my own thoughts. That would be so cool."
Trammell, 59, and Whitaker, 60, made their major-league debuts together, in the same game – the nightcap of a doubleheader at Fenway Park in Boston on Sept. 9, 1977. Whitaker had three hits, Trammell had two, and their careers were off and running.
For the next 19 seasons, they formed the longest double-play combination in baseball history, and combined to win seven Gold Gloves and seven Silver Sluggers, and make 11 All-Star teams, while leading the Tigers to the 1984 World Series.
At the peak of their careers, they compared favorably to contemporaries like Cal Ripken, Ozzie Smith and Barry Larkin, Joe Morgan, Ryne Sandberg and Roberto Alomar – all easy Hall-of-Famers.
Yet, for whatever reason, Trammell didn't sniff election in his full run, 15 years, on the writers' ballot, and Whitaker, inexcusably, didn't even get the 5 percent necessary to see a second year on the ballot, falling off after one year, in 2001.
That's why the veterans committee was created, as a second-chance catch-all – to fix the mistakes of the writers. Trammell is getting his first second look, along with another Tigers legend, Jack Morris; former Michigan State star Steve Garvey; Southfield native Ted Simmons; and Tommy John, Don Mattingly, Marvin Miller, Dale Murphy, Dave Parker and Luis Tiant. All are players except Miller, the late players-association chief who is largely credited with the salary bonanza.
‘I thought it was a lock’
The Historical Overview Committee, made of up 11 current and former baseball writers – it's a different committee than those who will vote on the actual ballot next month – were limited to 10 names on the ballot. Those who responded to inquiries from The News said Whitaker's candidacy was discussed at length, but fell short among a deep pool of candidates. At least, this time anyway.
"I'm disappointed. I don't know the reasons and all that," Trammell said of Whitaker's exclusion. "I just thought it was a lock. I did. That's how I viewed it.
"I do know when you start to look and analyze it, it's not as easy. Every player that's on there has been a darn good player for a long period of time, as Lou has. I don't know who you knock off. I don't have the list in front of me. I just know for Lou, I'm disappointed to say the least."
There are four committees that have been spawned from the old veterans committee – Modern Era (1970-87) and Today's Game (1988-present), both of which are voted on twice every five years; Golden Days (1950-1969), which is voted on once every five years; and Early Baseball (1871-1949), which is voted on once every 10 years.
That means Whitaker could be on the ballot when Modern Era comes up for a vote again in 2019.
The question is, will Trammell be on the ballot? Many baseball experts, including noted Hall-of-Fame numbers cruncher Jay Jaffe (he calls Trammell one of the "most underrated shortstops in modern baseball history," and Whitaker's exclusion "a cruel joke") consider Trammell the best pick among the current crop of 10 up for consideration – a notion that surprises the famously humble Trammell.
Trammell thinks the favorite is Morris, given Morris came the closest to election by the writers.
But this won't be the writers voting. It'll be a collection of folks from around baseball, many of whom played the game – many at a Hall-of-Fame level – and won't give a rip what the writers did.
"I would think Jack would be No. 1," Trammell said of his long-time teammate, who won World Series with the Tigers, Twins and Blue Jays. "It seems as of late, there's been a little more talk about myself, and comparisons. I've heard this for years. I just kind of smile and say, 'You know, that's great.' I don't know what else to say. Whether it happens or not, I know I'm recognized as a pretty darn good player and I'm OK with it.
"Would I like to be in there? Absolutely. But it's not something I have any control over. It's not going to change me, at least I hope it doesn't."
Detroit fans long have lobbied loudly, via letters to the editor at first to Twitter today, for Trammell and Whitaker, and to a lesser extent Morris, to get their proper day in the sun of Cooperstown.
The 1984 Tigers remain without a Hall-of-Fame player, joining the 1981 Dodgers as the only world champions – through the mid-1990s – without a Hall-of-Fame player.
The last player to go into the Hall of Fame with a Tigers cap on his plaque was Hal Newhouser, elected by the veterans committee in 1992. The last Tiger to be elected by the writers, considered the more prestigious of the honors, you have to go all the way back to 1980, when Al Kaline was a first-ballot inductee.
Its led to whispers – OK, more than whispers – that there's a so-called Detroit bias. For instance, would Trammell and Whitaker still be waiting for the call if they played for, say, the New York Yankees or the Boston Red Sox? It's debatable.
Trammell, for one, takes a diplomatic approach to such a theory.
"Is it a slight on Detroit? I don't know if it's so much a slight on Detroit," he said. "This is how I've always felt. Just to be recognized in a city like Detroit for all these years, that's as special to me as anything. I'd almost like to make it into the Hall of Fame just for the fans. They relate. 'That was our guy.' That's how the fans are.
"We have as good and as passionate of fans as anyone in the country. I know we get recognized as a blue-collar town, well, so are a lot of other cities. I don't want to say we're the only city like that. But we have very passionate fans, and to be recognized as one of the so-called icons for so many years, I'm part of the family forever. That's irreplaceable and I mean that.
"I'm an old man now, and I get recognized as much as I did when I was playing, and that's incredible. I would like to reward the fans for that more so than for me personally, because I've been rewarded in so many ways. That would mean something.
"At some point, it's gonna change," added Trammell, who, because of his role with the Tigers, will be in Orlando, Fla., next month and on site should he get that special Hall call. "There's no question. Whether it's Jack, or myself, or Lou, or whomever, that'll change."
MODERN BASEBALL ERA HOF BALLOT
Up for consideration: Steve Garvey, Tommy John, Don Mattingly, Marvin Miller, Jack Morris, Dale Murphy, Dave Parker, Ted Simmons, Luis Tiant, Alan Trammell
Voting: A 16-member committee will convene Dec. 10 at the baseball winter meetings, with results being announced Dec. 11. A candidate must receive at least 12 votes for election.
Induction: Sunday, July 29, in Cooperstown, N.Y.