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Short To Second To None

Sept. 12, 1983
Sept. 12, 1983

Table of Contents
Sept. 12, 1983

The Dodgers
Georgia Tailbacks
The Bengals
Trammaker
Baseball
Golf
College Football
Harvey Martin
19th Hole: The Readers Take Over

Short To Second To None

The Keystone Kids, Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker, keep the Detroit Tigers purring in the AL East race

One name can hardly be spoken without the other. Whitaker and Trammell, love and marriage, horse and carriage, ebony and ivory, together in perfect harmony, side by side...forget it—Trammaker.

This is an article from the Sept. 12, 1983 issue Original Layout

Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker are the Detroit Tigers' double-play combination, one of the best, if not the best, in show. The scouting report on the two used to be great field, fair hit. But this year they are among the American League's top six batters, Trammell at .327 and Whitaker at .316. Chances are they'll be the first members of an AL keystone combo to hit .300 since Chicago's Luke Appling (.301) and Cass Michaels (.308) in 1949. Great field, great hit.

Trammell has 14 home runs and 62 RBIs, Whitaker 11 and 60. Trammaker played in the minors together; they arrived in the majors precisely the same day; they roomed together for four years; their lockers adjoin; they're linked alphabetically on the Tiger roster; they usually bat one-two in the lineup; Whitaker wears uniform No. I and Trammell No. 3 (No. 2 was retired for Charlie Gehringer); they have used the same agent; and they both have four years remaining on their multimillion-dollar contracts with the Tigers.

Whitaker bats left and Trammell right, but that only adds to the symmetry. There's also an age discrepancy: Whitaker is 26 and Trammell is 25. But they are the same age 11 weeks out of every year, and, anyway, they both still look as if they're eligible for the junior prom.

Trammell is the shortstop, and although he may not be as spectacular as the Cardinals' Ozzie Smith, he has won two Gold Gloves. Whitaker has never won a Gold Glove, but that's only because Frank White of Kansas City plays second in the same league. Together, Whitaker and Trammell have made just 21 errors this year, or 9 fewer than Second Baseman Steve Sax of the Dodgers.

Tiger fans love them both. Whitaker's first name is a constant cheer in Detroit, even after he catches a routine pop-up. When, on Hank Greenberg and Charlie Gehringer Day last June 12, Gehringer was introduced by Al Kaline as "the greatest second baseman in Tiger history," the crowd began to chant "Loooo, Loooo, Loooo." Says Gehringer, who is in the Hall of Fame, "That's all right, they never saw me play."

Trammell's following is not as loud, but he's always warmly greeted when he steps to the plate. On Aug. 12 against New York, when he hit the second of his two home runs to send the game into extra innings, Tiger Stadium shook to its ancient rafters. After the game, which Detroit won 7-6, Whitaker said to Trammell, "You're awesome."

And Trammell replied, "But you've been awesome all season." Score the compliment 4-6-4. Trammaker is a big reason Detroit is in second place in the AL East, four games behind Baltimore.

Whitaker and Trammell do have different backgrounds—geographically, economically, culturally and athletically. Whitaker grew up poor in Martinsville, Va., a town of some 20,000 located at the bottom of the state and the economic scale. Trammell was raised in San Diego, and his family was moderately well-to-do. Whitaker was born in Brooklyn, but when he was a year old, his mother, Marian, pregnant with Louis Jr.'s sister Matilda, left Brooklyn to live with her family in Martinsville. They moved into a big house on Williams Street, which eventually held 16—mother, grandmother, one brother, three sisters, uncles, aunts and cousins. Lou knew his father only from what he heard, and what he heard wasn't very good.

Arlene Whitaker (her family eschews Marian) worked the night shift, 5 p.m. to midnight, at Stone's Drive-In to support her family, and young Louis waited up for her most nights. They had food on the table, but not much more. When Lou's legs grew crooked, the family couldn't afford orthopedic help, so his uncles twisted and turned them inward every day. "Somehow they began to straighten out," he told Tommy George of the Detroit Free Press. For a time he had to walk on his toes, and his friends called him Tippy-Toes.

On the positive side were the Charity Christian Church, which he attended as often as three times a week, and English Field, a playground near his home. "I didn't have a care in the world on the baseball field," says Whitaker. His love for the game grew with his skills. "When I was 13, I made a throw from third base, and this man, who must have been a scout, said to me, 'Son, take care of that arm. People are going to be coming around to see you play pretty soon.' "

The scouts spotted Whitaker in his junior year at Martinsville High. Wayne Blackburn of the Tigers filed this prescient report, dated Aug. 10, 1974, on Whitaker:

"WORD PICTURE—He is worth looking over next spring. Not very big. Seemed to have good baseball sense. Good arm, good hands, and range seemed okay. Bat seemed quick. But spray hitter. Got piece of ball. Had good curveball, when he went in to pitch. Had good spin, and some velocity. Attitude and aptitude was okay. Might end up at 2B or SS because of his size and not long ball hitter."

Scouts have a scale, 20 to 80, by which they rate the potential of a player: 80 is a Babe Ruth with speed; 55 is a player who could start for a major league team; and 50 means a prospect who will be one of 25 players on a major league roster. Blackburn didn't get to see Whitaker in Lou's senior year because he was in a car accident on his way to Martinsville, so the Tigers had to rely on the Major League Scouting Bureau, which had two reports on Whitaker. One rated him a 50, the other a 55; the Tigers weren't sure how high to draft Whitaker.

The 55, though, came from Billy Jurges, once a pretty fair infielder himself. Bill Lajoie, now a Tiger vice-president, was the club's scouting director at the time. "Even though none of our scouts saw Lou his senior year, I knew this—Billy Jurges doesn't like anybody [as a player]. But he liked this kid, so we figured something must be there. Funny thing, Billy liked him almost as much as a pitcher, too. Lou had a major league curveball."

The Tigers picked Whitaker in the fifth round of the 1975 draft. They thought it would be easy to sign him because he wanted to play so badly, but Blackburn couldn't come to terms with him. Lajoie went down to try. "Lou didn't say, but I had an idea why he didn't want to go," Lajoie says. "I just said, 'Let's go and get you a suitcase and some clothes.' I had $500 with me when we went into the store, and $3 when we came out. The way things have turned out with him, I'd say it was $497 well spent."

Lajoie drove Whitaker to Bristol, Va., in the rookie Appalachian League, and on the way Lou said to him, "Mister Lajoie, don't worry about me. I was born to play." In one of his first games, Whitaker was put at shortstop; he made three errors. "He cried after the game," says Lajoie. "But the next day, Lou said, 'I'm fine, that's all over with.' That showed me strength of character."

At spring training in 1976, Whitaker made an immediate impression on Detroit General Manager Jim Campbell. Says Campbell, "He came up to me and said, 'Hi, Mister Campbell. I'm Louis Whitaker and I'm going to be playing for you soon.' I stammered and said something like, 'I'm sure you will.' " Sent to Lakeland to play third base, Whitaker wound up hitting .297 and was named MVP of the Florida State League.

That same spring Trammell was winding up his career at Kearny High School, where he was a slightly bigger star on the basketball court than on the diamond. His father, Forrest, was an insurance salesman, and he remembers his childhood as a happy one, although his parents are now divorced. As a kid one of his favorite pastimes was sneaking into San Diego Stadium. His biggest thrill came the day he and a friend went down to the first row with their gloves and asked Bill Mazeroski (then a coach with the Pirates) if he wanted to throw with them. Mazeroski did. Trammell may be the first—and the only—major-leaguer to whom Clarence Gaston was a hero.

Trammell was the point guard on Kearny's successful basketball team, and he received several scholarship offers, but size was a deterrent. "The world is filled with six-foot point guards," says Trammell. Baseball scouts began to come around in Trammell's senior year to see him at shortstop, and at first they went away unimpressed. In March there were three reports, rating him from 44 to 48. In April Charlie Metro of the Scouting Bureau gave Trammell a 42.1, writing, "Bat and power lacking.... Poor knowledge and mechanics of hitting.... Good defensive prospect." But two days later, Pete Coscarart of the Bureau, a former major league infielder, gave Trammell a 55. "Both feet point out a la Yogi Berra," wrote Coscarart. "Doesn't seem to bother him. Reminds me of Marty Marion.... Has excellent hands w/strong arm. Bat is questionable but has a good swing which should improve with added WT and strength.... Improving."

In May of '76, Trammell's ratings shot up as high as 58.6 (Larry Maxie of the Scouting Bureau on May 25). "Maybe it was because I was coming off of basketball," says Trammell. "I do remember I was awfully hot at that time." Both Tiger scouts, Dick Wiencek and Rick Ferrell, liked him a lot, although Ferrell added this caveat: "He could be first-draft choice but down the line. Will develop into a fine def. SS—Ray Oyler type." Ray Oyler, who played four years with the Tigers, had a lifetime batting average of. 175.

Trammell was the Tigers' second-round pick in June of 1976, and he turned down Arizona State and UCLA to sign for $35,000. The Tigers' seventh-round pick that year was a Cal Poly junior infielder named Ozzie Smith. Detroit didn't sign Smith, but if they had, Whitaker might still be a third baseman and Trammell and Smith the double-play combination.

Trammell succeeded Whitaker as the Bristol shortstop in '76 and made the All-Star team. Trammell and Whitaker met for the first time that fall in the Instructional League at St. Petersburg. G.M. Campbell had already made the decision that Whitaker be converted into a second baseman, and that he and Trammell be paired. Whitaker didn't like the move at first, but he complied.

"The very first day, we clicked," says Trammell. Eddie Brinkman, the former Washington and Detroit shortstop who now coaches for the White Sox, was an instructor that fall for the Tigers. "The first time I saw Trammell field a ground ball, I said to myself, 'My, my, we've got something here.' And Whitaker was such a natural athlete that he took to second base right away." Campbell promised them sports coats if they performed well in the Instructional League. Recalls Campbell, "At the end Lou asked me if they'd earned it, and I said they had, and the next morning we drove to a store and they went right to the rack where they had two suits already picked out. I had promised them a sports coat, remember, but I bought them the suits."

"It was Lou who talked him into the suits," says Trammell. "Three-piece suits. We both still have them."

In 1977 they roomed and played together at Montgomery in the Class AA Southern League. "We did everything together," says Whitaker. "We didn't have anybody else." Says Trammell, "We comforted each other a little. If one of us had a bad night, the other one wouldn't let it get him down. We sort of used each other as crutches, and we became pretty close." Whitaker hit .280. Trammell batted .291, broke Reggie Jackson's league record for triples with 19 and was named league MVP. Brinkman, their manager, says, "They could've been co-MVPs that year."

On Sept. 8, the day after the Rebels beat Jacksonville to win the playoffs, Whitaker and Trammell flew to Detroit. They were going to the majors, which was fine with Whitaker, who didn't much like the bus trips in the minors. "I think I've still got some cramps from some of our trips. One of our pitchers, Sheldon Burnside, finally taught me how to sleep, stretched out on the luggage rack up top." Once in Tiger uniforms, they were interviewed by broadcaster George Kell. Whitaker said "hi" to all his friends in Virginia, even though the game was being telecast only in Detroit. Trammell finished the interview by yelling "Go, Rebels!" Manager Ralph Houk started the kids the next night in Boston in the second game of a doubleheader; Whitaker got three hits, Trammell two.

The next spring, coaches and writers cautioned the Tigers against rushing Whitaker and Trammell to the big leagues, but both performed so well that Houk had no choice. Before long, he was comparing them to his old Yankee double-play combo, Bobby Richardson and Tony Kubek. "It's the damndest thing," Houk said. "You tell one of them something and he says, 'We can do it.' Like they're a team." By the end of May, they were starters—for good.

"Ralph Houk had a lot to do with our making it," says Trammell. "He let us play through our mistakes, never put any pressure op us." Whitaker hit .285 and was named Rookie of the Year, while Trammell hit .268. Detroit was so taken with them that an editorial in the Detroit Free Press suggested they could be used as an allegory for the city—white and black working together.

Both of them had good seasons in '79—Whitaker hit .286, Trammell .276—but when their agent, Rick Brode, decided to take both their salaries to arbitration in '80, Detroit turned against them. Brode asked $130,000 for each, and while they both won, one columnist wrote: "Their halos have slipped."

Whitaker caught a lot of flak in 1980. Pushed into the leadoff spot to replace Ron LeFlore, who had been the best man at his wedding, Whitaker hit only .233. He said he wouldn't mind being traded, SWEET LOU TURNS SOUR became a tired headline. The "Loos" actually became "boos."

In August 1980 Trammell signed a seven-year, $2.8 million contract. He hit .300 in '80, and .258 in each of the last two seasons. He also stopped rooming with Whitaker. Whitaker hit a soft .263 in '81, but last year showed surprising pop, batting .286 with 15 homers. Last November he signed a five-year, $3 million contract.

Whitaker and Trammell have drifted apart socially, not out of enmity but to be with their families. Trammell married his high school sweetheart, Barbara Leverett, in February of '78, and Whitaker wed Crystal McCreary, a sometime model, after the '79 season.

Whitaker is shy—"I was taught not to talk unless I had something to say"—but once he gets going he can take a conversation on a wild ride, from second base to Martinsville to a luggage rack to the batting cage to Boston. When he's sitting in a dugout his eyes take in everything; if he notices Marty Castillo taking grounders at third, he'll run to first to give Castillo somebody to throw to. Whitaker is a little more appreciative of the finer things in life than Trammell is, having never had them while growing up. Lou was once quoted as saying, "Sweetness is my weakness." Whitaker also likes to sleep, and he can do it anytime, anywhere.

Trammell is more outgoing and talkative, although he's not exactly colorful. He does have one fault: He's a klutz. "He is the world's worst eater," says First Baseman Enos Cabell. "You better sit on his left side or else he'll spill on you." Says Third Baseman Tom Brookens, "Alan has to Scotchgard all his pants." Says Castillo, "His hands are like Mel Tillis' speech: Mel stutters when he talks, but he sings perfectly. If it's not a baseball, Alan drops it."

The one knock against Whitaker and Trammell before this year was that they weren't aggressive enough—at bat, in the field or in the locker room. Cabell says, "I told Lou he should be more like George Brett—when George has two hits, he wants three, and when he has three, he wants four. Some players are hesitant to become stars, like they don't think it's their place." Batting Coach Gates Brown persuaded Trammell to close his stance and not take the first fastball for a strike. Whitaker pulls the ball now; teams no longer play him to go the other way.

Says Whitaker, "They never thought we'd do much as hitters. I don't think anybody expected anything out of us except defense." Trammell nods and says, "We wanted to prove these people wrong. I don't think we're going to hit .240 anymore."

Whitaker nods; 4-6-4.

View this article in the original magazine

PHOTOTrammell tags out Toronto's Lloyd Moseby as he attempts to steal second base...PHOTO...and Whitaker gets Cliff Johnson of the Blue Jays as he tries to stretch a single.THREE PHOTOSSince coming to Detroit in 1977, Trammaker has stumbled only on rare occasions, such as on this bunt by Trammell.PHOTOLoooo is No. 1 in the scorecard and on the field.PHOTOTrammell and his son Lance have a ball together.

THE COMBO THAT PLAYS TOGETHER HITS TOGETHER

Trammell and Whitaker are not only linked as a double-play combination but as hitters. Note the similarity in their lifetime stats:

G

AB

R

H

2b

3b

HR

RBI

GW*

BB

SO

SB

E

BA

TRAMMELL

824

2,798

414

783

123

22

42

298

33

308

319

82

91

.2798

WHITAKER

818

2,848

426

796

114

34

38

308

32

364

377

72

68

.2794

*Since 1979