Few choices are tougher for a Hall of Fame voter than Alan Trammell

Publish date:

As the New Year's Eve deadline for Hall of Fame ballots approached, former star shortstop Alan Trammell monitored the Internet and responded with a thank-you tweet to baseball writers who had revealed on Twitter that they had supported him for a spot in Cooperstown.

Trammell is not a self-promoter, but he wonders if shortstop Barry Larkin's almost certain Hall of Fame election this month -- results are announced Monday--- will help pave the way for him to make Cooperstown in one of the final four years that he's on the Baseball Writers Association of America ballot.

"This time of year, I think about the vote,'' Trammell said in an interview with SI.com. "But I have a long way to go and my vote total isn't going to change dramatically overnight. I'm curious to see what's going to happen. I'm pulling for Barry Larkin and Jack Morris, and if my vote total were up around where those guys are, it would change my curiosity.''

A year ago, when Bert Blyleven and Roberto Alomar were elected, Larkin finished third with 62.1 percent with Morris at 53.5 percent. Trammell, who along with Morris helped the Detroit Tigers win the 1984 World Series, was at 24.3 percent.

But, the most debated issue among the 500-plus BBWAA members this time around focused on the shortstops, Larkin and Trammell. If Larkin, in his second year on the ballot, has a reasonable chance to make Cooperstown, why shouldn't Trammell?

Larkin and Trammell put up eerily similar numbers. Their resumes are virtually interchangeable. Larkin hit .300 or better nine times, Trammell seven.


In his 19 seasons in Cincinnati, his only big-league team, Larkin helped the Reds win the 1990 World Series by hitting .353. He was a 12-time All-Star with three Gold Gloves, an NL MVP, 2,340 hits, 198 home runs, 960 RBIs and 379 stolen bases.

Trammell is the American League version of Larkin. He was one of the faces of the Tigers and played his entire 20-year career with Detroit. He had more hits (2,365) and RBIs (1,003) than Larkin, but not as many stolen bases (236). Trammell, though, was a six-time All-Star who won four Gold Gloves, a World Series MVP and finished second in an AL MVP race.

So, why is there such a big voting disparity between Larkin and Trammell?

"Honestly, I don't get it,'' says voter Phil Rogers, a baseball reporter for the Chicago Tribune. "Maybe it's because Trammell wasn't as flashy and wasn't a self-promoter.''

"It's a great question, often asked in these parts,'' says voter Lynn Henning of the Detroit News. "I'm not sure why Trammell hasn't done better, except his heyday was the pre-ESPN era, essentially, and he just didn't get sufficient exposure early enough his career.''

Larkin making the Hall should help Trammell, says USA Today voter Mike Dodd, who has come around on Trammell.

"To me, Larkin is absolutely a Hall of Famer,'' Dodd says. "I didn't vote for Trammell the first several years. But as I studied Larkin's stats to confirm my gut feeling on him, I realized Trammell's career was comparable. I re-considered. Hard to say how many others he'll win over. Trammell has a long way to go in his final five years.''

The debate about Trammell hasn't changed much in the last decade.

Those who vote for Trammell say that he was a pioneer who revolutionized the shortstop position into an offensive force and was one of the best hitters of his time. The flip side is that Trammell is the perfect definition of a "near Hall of Famer.'' Also, the uptick in overall offense by shortstops puts Trammell's numbers in a lesser light.

His first year with the Tigers was 1977, and so he played most of his career during the 1980s, a low-offense decade that was dominated by pitching at a time when shortstops were expected to gobble up every grounder and bat around .250.

Trammell, though, was a shortstop contemporary of two other first-ballot Hall of Famers, Cal Ripken Jr. of the Baltimore Orioles and Ozzie Smith of the St. Louis Cardinals. Trammell wasn't the offense force of Ripken, who had 3,184 hits, and he couldn't match Smith's flashy defense, which made Smith so popular that he made the Hall despite a .262 average and 28 career home runs.

"Forget the Larkin comparison,'' says voter Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports. "Trammell should be in on his own merits. He was over-shadowed by Ripken and for a time by Tony Fernandez in the American League. But there is little doubt that he is one of the top shortstops in history. Maybe he wasn't quite the all-around wonder that Larkin was, but Trammell was pretty close. I can't understand why he's over-looked.''

Not every one sees it that way.

Terry Pluto, from The Plain Dealer in Cleveland, said he would continue to vote for Larkin and shortstop Omar Vizquel, but not Trammell.

"Larkin was a better all-around player and hitter,'' Pluto says. "Trammell is very close. I never thought he was quite the fielder of Omar, and he didn't have the pop of the bat of Larkin.''

Bill Madden, a voter from the New York Daily News, said that he agonizes every year over the Trammell vote because he was the guts of the Tigers teams of the 1980s.

Madden votes for Larkin, but not Trammell, because he says that Larkin was a slightly more dominant player, citing these facts: Larkin had 12 All-Star appearances to Trammell's six with Larkin scoring 100 more runs and having 150 more steals.

"It's a tough call for me every year, but there's got to be a cutoff between a Hall of Famer and a near-Hall of Famer,'' Madden says. "I always thought Larkin was the clear-cut best shortstop in the National League for 10 years and a Hall of Fame no-brainer.''

In 1984, the year the Tigers started 35-5, Trammell finished fifth in the AL with a .314 average. He hit .364 against the Kansas City Royals in the American League Championship Series, and was 9-for-20 in the World Series against the San Diego Padres, including two home runs and four RBIs that accounted for Detroit's 4-2 win in Game 4 at Tiger Stadium. (Morris was the winning pitcher, throwing a complete game.)

When the Tigers returned to the playoffs in 1987, Trammell was the September cog. They won the AL East by two games with Trammell hitting .416 with six home runs, 17 RBIs and an 18-game hitting streak during the final month. The Tigers lost the American League Championship Series to the Minnesota Twins.

Former Twins manager Tom Kelly and Royals pitcher Mark Gubicza remember Trammell's dominance.

"Alan Trammell is a Hall of Famer; his numbers and durability make him one of the best at his position,'' Gubicza says. "Shortstop is an athletic and demanding position, so that is why his offensive numbers may not stack up with the other positions. He was a tough out.

"He was so tough to pitch to because he looked in early and away late in the count. In other words, he can turn on the pitch inside, but hit a tough slider away when he is behind in the count.''

Kelly said Trammell was a hard-working player that wasn't afraid to get dirty: "The Tigers had a wonderful combination with him and Lou Whitaker that made for an exciting time in Tiger baseball history. Those two really put on a show offensively and defensively. Alan was an extremely good base runner and excellent fielder. He could hit it over the fence, pretty much a complete player.''

Trammell isn't the first of the 1984 Tigers to have a tough go in the Hall of Fame balloting.

Morris, who had 254 wins and a 3.90 ERA, has seen his vote total rise slowly, even though he pitched for two other World Series champions, the 1992 Toronto Blue Jays and the 1991 Twins, the year he pitched 10 shutout innings in Minnesota's 1-0 Game 7 win against the Atlanta Braves.

Meanwhile, Whitaker, the Tigers' second baseman, as well as outfielder Kirk Gibson and catcher Lance Parrish, were each bounced off the 2001 ballot because they didn't get the required 5 percent to stay on, leaving manager Sparky Anderson as the only Tiger from the 1980s to be in Cooperstown.

Whitaker, with 2,369 hits, deserved more consideration. Four years later, second baseman Ryne Sandberg, with 2,386 hits, made the Hall.

Trammell and Whitaker played together on the same field for a record 1,918 games.

"The fact that Lou and I played together for all those games,'' Trammell says. "He should be recognized as one of the best around. He did so many things. He should at least be on the ballot, but I think he's a Hall of Famer.''

Voter Jerry Crasnick of ESPN.com said that he voted for Larkin, but not Trammell. He said that, given their longevity, he would like to vote for Trammell and Whitaker as a combination, but "individually, they don't quite do it for me.''

Trammell is pulling for Morris, and he feels for Whitaker. He is proud that he played for only one team. He says that maybe if he had won the 1987 AL MVP -- he lost in a close vote to the Toronto Blue Jays' George Bell -- his Hall of Fame vote total might be different. "That might have helped my case, caught some people's attention. But that's the way it is.''

Trammell, now a coach with the Arizona Diamondbacks, has great memories of playing when he did. He said it was a time when the game was played right and doing what was best for the team trumped numbers and comparisons.

"I don't remember my numbers being an issue at the end of my career,'' Trammell says. "Numbers are talked about now on a much higher level. I feel good about the era I played in. Our emphasis was playing the game right and teaching team first."

No matter what happens with Monday's voting results, that legacy will live on.