Humble Alan Trammell thanks fans, honors Lou Whitaker, Sparky Anderson in Hall speech

Tony Paul
The Detroit News
Alan Trammell speaks at the Baseball Hall of Fame

Cooperstown, N.Y. — It wasn't the flashiest speech. But then again, Alan Trammell never was the flashiest ballplayer.

So, in that respect, this was vintage Tram — humble from that day in 1977 he arrived in Boston to make his major-league debut, all the way to this very pinnacle, on the Baseball Hall-of-Fame stage on a sun-splashed day in the hills of upstate New York on Sunday.

"Honestly, I didn't think this day would ever come," Trammell, his reading glasses slipping down his nose, said in the early moments of his speech before a crowd of more than 53,000.

"Tigers fans, I know you're out there. Today is much about you as it is for me.

"Today, all Tigers fan can celebrate."

Trammell, fittingly, batted second during a long day that featured six Hall-of-Fame speeches, the same spot he occupied throughout much of his 20-year career playing for the Tigers.

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The six-time All-Star, four-time Gold Glove winner and MVP of the 1984 World Series, Trammell became the first Tiger to enter the Hall of Fame wearing a Detroit cap on his plaque since Hal Newhouser in 1992. Before that, it was George Kell in 1983 and Al Kaline in 1980.

Jack Morris joined Trammell about a half-hour later Sunday, speaking fifth.

They're the first players from the 1984 World Series championship team to make the Hall.

"One day," said Trammell, "this incredible journey will all sink in."

Unlike the man who spoke first, Braves slugger Chipper Jones, Trammell didn't read off a list of thank-yous like he was accepting an Oscar. He had a few, and his wife, daughter and two sons earned a special mention. Kaline, sitting on stage, received a nod, of course, as did Morris and Dan Petry.

But Trammell focused his speech on two men in particular, one man, Lou Whitaker, who joined him this weekend in Cooperstown, but as an audience member — and the other, the late Sparky Anderson, whom Trammell joined in the Hall of Fame.

Whitaker was Trammell's teammate and double-play partner for 19 years, from the day they were called up to the majors together, until Whitaker retired after the 1995 season. They got their first hits off the same pitcher, and their last off the same pitcher.

Whitaker was the central voice in Trammell's introduction video.

"There was a time, I think, Tram told me he wasn't ready for the big leagues," Whitaker said in the video, which featured almost as much footage of him as it did of Trammell. "I looked at him, 'Man, you must be out of your mind.'

"I saw beautiful things, amazing things from Alan Trammell.

"Tram did it all."

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Whitaker's been a much talked-about figure this weekend in Cooperstown, because many believe he belongs where he spent his entire career — right next to Trammell, this time in the Hall of Fame. That day may never come, given the practically nonexistent support he's gotten from the voters over the years, first from the baseball writers, then from the oversight committee that didn't even put him up for a vote last December.

Trammell always has made it clear where he stands on that issue, not long ago telling The News that if he had to choose, he would've preferred missing out on last December's vote if it meant waiting a few more years if it meant going in side-by-side with Whitaker. And on Sunday, Trammell made that pitch for all of the nation to hear.

"My whole career, I have been linked with one person," said Trammell, whose first words about Whitaker drew chants of "Louuuuuuuuu" from the crowd. Whitaker, in sunglasses and a hat, watched stoically.

"For all those years, it was Lou and Tram. Lou, it was an honor and a pleasure to have played alongside you for all those years.

"The hope, my hope, is that someday, you will be up here as well."

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Trammell, 60, closed his typically humble speech with an ode to Sparky, his manager for all but three of his big-league seasons.

Anderson went into the Hall of Fame in 2000, until Sunday the lone representative of the 1984 team in the Hall of Fame — even though Anderson went in as a Cincinnati Red.

Anderson was hired by the Tigers in 1979, shortly after being stunningly fired as skipper of the Reds. Anderson died in 2010.

"That move," said Trammell, "turned out to be a lifesaver for me and so many of my teammates.

"We thought we were good ballplayers, but we found out we didn't know squat.

"Believe me, there was a lot more to it if you wanted to play Sparky's way. Sparky's way was team first, always team first, check your ego at the door. I looked at Sparky much like an extension of my parents; that meant tough love, discipline, and attention to detail.

"I know Sparky's smiling down on all of us today."

That line, no doubt, drew smiles from a bunch of former teammates in attendance, including Kirk Gibson, Darrell Evans and Tom Brookens, among others.

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Trammell, who retired in the top 10 in hits, doubles, home runs, defensive games played and fielding percentage among shortstops, was greeted by chants of "Let's Go Tigers."

He responded, "I hear ya," took a deep breath, paused briefly, and then delivered a warm speech that wasn't overly humorous, wasn't overly emotional, but struck the perfect Trammell tone. Understated, as always. He appeared to get emotional only once, talking about Whitaker.

Trammell also paid tribute to the Ilitch family, including late owner Mike and current owner Chris — and, not really even so much for what they've done for the Tigers, the only team Trammell ever knew as a ballplayer, and a team for which he also later managed and coached, and now works in a front-office advisory role.

"You've been at the forefront of so many wonderful changes to the Motor City," he said.

Trammell, a skinny kid from San Diego when he was drafted in the second round of the 1976 draft, also worked in one more Hall-of-Fame mention, that of the late Tigers broadcaster, Ernie Harwell.

After all, it was a doubly nice day for a legion of Tigers fans Sunday — thousands who made the scenic trek to Cooperstown, not wanting to miss out on a day they waited so long to finally arrive.

"Like Ernie Harwell used to say when the Tigers turned a double play," said Trammell, "you get two for the price of one."