Alan Trammell, who played for the Tigers his entire career from 1977-96, talks about getting his feet wet at Cooperstown before Sunday's induction. Tony Paul, The Detroit News
Cooperstown, N.Y. — Cutting through Canada, it's just a little less than 500 miles from downtown Detroit to this quaint, rolling-hill town were the local industry is baseball and, well, more baseball.
But the distance might as well be to the moon and back.
It's been 26 years since a man entered the Baseball Hall of Fame as a Detroit Tiger. That was Hal Newhouser, a man they called "Prince." Sure, Sparky Anderson went in back in 2000, but, oddly, as a Cincinnati Red, even though he managed the Tigers nearly twice as long as he did "The Big Red Machine." Pudge Rodriguez surely revived the Tigers in the mid-2000s, but was well on the downside of his career by the time he arrived in Detroit, and was enshrined, correctly, as a Texas Ranger in 2017.
The drought ends Sunday afternoon, and Tigers fans have come out in droves to soak in the occasion — by the eye test, only outnumbered certainly by Atlanta Braves fans (Chipper Jones), and maybe Montreal Expos fans (Vladimir Guerrero).
The 1984 World Series championship team, seemingly long forgotten by anybody who's not from Detroit and Michigan — "We're west of the Hudson River, and that's the problem," late Tigers broadcaster Paul Carey once told me — finally gets its day in the serene, upstate New York sun, with the induction of shortstop Alan Trammell and pitcher Jack Morris.
"I'm gonna try to share with my teammates, that this is us," said Morris, who won two other World Series rings elsewhere, but is overwhelmingly defined by his long run in Detroit in the late 1970s and the entire 1980s.
"I know I'm the one who gets the carrot, but this is us. We're finally on the map. We were good! We were good for a long time, and it seemed like to the, whatever – I'm not saying a lot of people didn't agree with it — but for whatever reason, none of us were good enough to be here.
"And now, two of us have made it."
Walking down the main drag in Cooperstown on Friday and Saturday, with souvenir shops to the left, to the right, and as far as the naked eye can see, you couldn't strut 60 feet, 6 inches, without spotting major Michigan flavor. Tigers jerseys. Tigers caps. Road grays. Home whites. Old school. New school. No. 3s. No. 1s. No. 23s. Even Michigan shirts, Michigan State hats.
It’s a wonder the local watering holes didn’t run out of Labatt, or that the native kids hustling to make a buck or two thousand didn’t replace the lemonade at their homemade stands with Red Pop and Vernor’s. Over here, Darrell Evans, who looks like he could still find the overhang at Old Tiger Stadium with relative ease. Over there, Lou Whitaker, who doesn’t, but likewise is signing autographs and still mustering a smile on a weekend that has got to be oh so bittersweet, given he was every bit the Hall-of-Famer Trammell was, yet continues to wait for a call that may not come.
Kirk Gibson, Trammell’s best friend, wouldn’t miss this, and held court during a Saturday lunch that included Trammell and Whitaker (Morris opted to play golf). Oh, to be a fly on that wall. A Tigers front-office party of 50, including the owner, GM and Mr. Tiger, Al Kaline (Hall of Fame Class of 1980), hitched a ride on the team plane Friday, conveniently avoiding commercial travel with the Tigers playing at home.
There was the annual parade early Saturday evening, each Hall-of-Famer in attendance — more than 50 in all — standing atop the bed of his own Ford F150 (more pure Michigan!), beaming, waving at the thousands of adoring fans who gathered from all over the country, Canada and beyond. Each immortal was met with cheers, some golf-clap-like, others far more raucous. Unlike the bleachers, this wasn't the setting for heckling, though more than a few Tigers fans met Rich Gossage's truck with some catcalls. They're forgiven. They've waited their turn. And "The Goose" was a good sport, and smiled.
The trucks were sent out in order by Hall-of-Fame year, then alphabetically within multi-man classes, with Kaline batting leadoff — and Trammell in the caboose.
Fitting bookends to a tale that's stood the test of time.
Some would say, too much time.