Detroit Tigers fans have been waiting for a long time for a playing member of the 1984 World Series championship team to finally be enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Nearly every World Series title team has at least one Hall of Famer as a player (yes, we know manager Sparky Anderson is enshrined), yet the Tigers in 1984 do not, despite having deserving players like Alan Trammell, Lou Whitaker and Jack Morris.
That is not even talking about Lance Parrish, Darrell Evans, Kirk Gibson and Chet Lemon, who all were underappreciated players for a long time, or Guillermo Hernandez, who claimed the American League MVP and Cy Young award that stunning season.
No one made it on the Baseball Writers Association of American ballot, some even dropping off after their first appearance on it.
But on Monday, the Hall of Fame announced the 10 finalists for the Modern Era ballot, which will be voted upon by an era-specific committee on Dec. 10 at the winter meetings.
Alan Trammell is on the list. So is Jack Morris. But astonishingly, Lou Whitaker is not.
During their careers, Whitaker was the quiet one. He didn’t get the fanfare that Trammell or Morris got. But he might have been the best of the bunch.
By the way, the other finalists are players’ union chief Marvin Miller, first baseman Steve Garvey, pitcher Tommy John, first baseman Don Mattingly, center fielder Dale Murphy, right fielder Dave Parker, catcher Ted Simmons and pitcher Luis Tiant.
Whitaker was left off the top ten, along with a few other players with a strong case, such as Keith Hernandez, Bobby Grich and four-time batting champion and former Tiger Bill Madlock.
Personally, I think that all of the snubs mentioned have a better case than Tommy John, but Whitaker might have a better case than all of the other players on the ballot.
We all know Whitaker’s career compares with Trammell, but it is even better.
Hits: Whitaker, 2,369; Trammell 2,365
HR: Whitaker 244; Trammell 185
RBIs: Whitaker 1,084; Trammell 1003
Runs: Whitaker 1,386; Trammell 1,231
Average: Trammell .285; Whitaker .276
OPS: Whitaker .789; Trammell .767
OPS+: Whitaker 117; Trammell 110
WAR: Whitaker 74.9; Trammell 70.4
Whitaker won the Rookie of the Year, was a five-time All-Star, four-time Silver Slugger winner and three-time Gold Glove winner.
Trammell nearly won the MVP in 1987, was a six-time All-Star, three-time Silver Slugger winner and four-time Gold Glove winner.
All in all, they look pretty identical. So how can Trammell be perhaps the front-runner on this Modern Era ballot, when Whitaker isn’t even on it?
Especially because with Whitaker holding a slight edge in most of the statistics, he also did it in one fewer season. They debuted together in 1977 and had nearly identical numbers in their 19 seasons as teammates, but it’s easy to forget that Sweet Lou accomplished better numbers in fewer seasons.
Whitaker’s WAR also is the highest of any eligible position player not in the Hall of Fame (except those implicated with PEDs) and higher than plenty of baseball legends such as Reggie Jackson, Frank Thomas, Derek Jeter, Barry Larkin, Tony Gwynn, Tim Raines, Al Simmons, Eddie Murray, Ernie Banks and Paul Waner. Perhaps the most telling is that he is well ahead of contemporary second baseman Ryne Sandberg (67.5), who made the Hall of Fame on his third ballot, while Whitaker didn’t even have enough votes to make a second appearance on the writers ballot. The two contemporary second basemen have been compared before, and Whitaker always comes out looking very good.
Now, yes, WAR is only one stat, but he is nearly identical to Sandberg in most statistical categories (Sandberg 2,386 hits, 1,318 runs, 282 home runs, 1,061 RBIs, .285 average, .795 OPS and 114 OPS+).
So how did Sandberg make the Hall of Fame 12 years ago and contemporary middle infielders like Trammell and Whitaker haven’t come close?
Maybe because he won an MVP and played in Chicago. But Tigers fans know Trammell and Whitaker was at minimum as good as Sandberg, if not better.
This might be Trammell’s year. It might even be the year for Morris, who got by far the most votes of any former Tiger from that era, topping off at 67.7 percent in 2013 (75 percent needed).
But it won’t be the year for Whitaker. Even though he might be the best player from this era on the outside of Cooperstown.
There are so many strong candidates, Tiger fans should just hope that at least one player makes it. The only thing that will make it easier for Whitaker to get on the ballot the next time is if some people get in and move off the ballot.
While it might be disappointing for Whitaker fans, Tiger fans should keep up hope that the Hall could be soon calling for perhaps two Detroit legends. That would be a great day to be a Tiger fan.
If you’re wondering how I would rank the ballot, I would strongly advocate for Trammell, Marvin Miller, Luis Tiant, Dale Murphy and Morris. I also wouldn’t be opposed to the others, though I think Mattingly and Tommy John have the weakest cases on the ballot, which doesn’t mean they aren’t deserving.