They talked Friday the way they played baseball for the Tigers. With passion and with a zeal for detail two Hall of Fame-bound celebrities brought to Tiger Stadium throughout their big-league days in Detroit.
Jack Morris was first, Alan Trammell second, during a teleconference with national media as each took breaks from speeches set to be shared with a July 29 crowd when they are commended to the Baseball Hall of Fame at Cooperstown, New York.
“I wanted it to be an impactful speech, something that has meaning,” said Morris, the powerhouse right-handed ace who won 254 games in his big-league years, 14 of which were spent with the Tigers.
“When I started putting down words, it wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be. It’s the story of Jack Morris’ times in baseball, and if I could do it justice I’d probably have to write a fifteen-hundred-word book.”
Trammell, the radiant 20-year Tigers shortstop, has been working on his thoughts since nearly the hour he and Morris learned last December they were headed for a Cooperstown plaque after the Modern Day Committee gave each a thumbs-up.
They’ll be joining four others who in January won induction on the writers’ ballot: Jim Thome, Vladimir Guerrero, Chipper Jones and Trevor Hoffman.
“How relieved will I be?” Trammell asked, referring to his speech. “I don’t think any of us will be relieved until next Sunday afternoon when we’re done."
Morris and Trammell were high-energy in voice and in spirit Friday as they talked about times with the Tigers and from careers that were at their zeniths during the 1980s and into the early '90s.
They spoke of their first time together in August 1976 when each had been bumped to Double-A Montgomery. Morris had been signed that year after pitching at Brigham Young. Trammell had been drafted out of high school in San Diego.
“I remember my first impression,” Morris said, speaking of a shortstop who then had, by Morris’ standards, long hair. “Where you from? California? Are you a surfer?”
Trammell said no, he just played baseball.
Morris said, “it didn’t take me long to decide Alan Trammell was definitely a very good baseball player” and that, perhaps because of a work ethic Morris shared, big-league days might be ahead.
“I had no inclination that either of us would ever win a World Series,” Morris said. “We both went through some growing pains.”
Trammell was more specific Friday. He remembered the day when he, fresh from Single-A Bristol, walked into Double-A Montgomery's clubhouse.
“We were home, playing the Chattanooga Lookouts, which was the Oakland A’s affiliate,” Trammell remembered, “and so many of their players wore mustaches and facial hair.
“Here I am, an 18-year-old kid, and I felt like I was playing against men. What I saw in Jack then was a guy with a great arm, but he was wild. He didn’t throw strikes.
“But I’ve told this story: From the time that year we won the Double-A championship, to just five days or a before we went to Instructional Ball (postseason seminars at the Tigers’ minor-league complex in Lakeland, Fla.), just in that short period of time, he found his control. I couldn’t believe it.
"Then, boom, he was on the fast track.”
Morris, as well as Trammell, talked deeply Friday about their gilded 1984 season. The Tigers began with a mind-jarring 35-5 start that set up an October dismissal of the Royals in the ALCS and an almost matter-of-fact trouncing of the Padres in the World Series.
It was an enormously gifted team, from Detroit’s starting lineup, to a rotation headed by Morris and Dan Petry, to a bullpen with Willie Hernandez so overwhelming and consistent he won both the American League MVP and Cy Young awards.
“Seventeen in a row on the road, and a 35-5 start overall,” Morris remembers. “That’s a legendary-type start.
“But when you look back, we had probably the best infield keystone combination in the game, with Lou Whitaker and Trammell. “Kirk Gibson brought a unique style and determination and a lot of power and raw energy. Lance Parrish was a guy who every year got better. Larry Herndon, Chet Lemon — we had guys who could play the game.
“We wanted to make sure it was a time that wouldn’t pass us by.”
Trammell agreed with Morris that a first taste of how good they might soon become came late in 1983, when they chased the Orioles but stumbled in what was then the old American League East Division.
“It was sometime in mid-September and we had crept back into it, but they beat us in some close games,” Trammell recalled. “But we were close. I think that winter, now that most of us had a few years under our belt, we started to come together. Winning baseball games doesn’t happen overnight. It took time for us to take some lumps.”
Now, four decades after they arrived in Detroit, two decades after they retired, they’re about to take bows. At Cooperstown. Two men, two players, with Tigers heritage — and now with Hall of Fame plaques.