The summer of 1977 crawled by like a bug on a hot sidewalk. “Undercover Angel” stuck in the top ten. Elvis ate his last plate of cheeseburgers. The Tigers finished an indifferent fourth, in a seven team American League East. But a new band from New York City, the Ramones, had recorded some interesting music, and The Baseball Fan had a crush on Rusty Staub.
The Baseball Fan had big green eyes, and honey blonde hair that glistened in the sunlight. She could read box scores, and favored Le Grand Orange because he was single and could cook. Never mind him, I said. He’s the past. Wait until September, when the kids come up. Trammell and Whitaker. They’re the future.
Ralph Houk wrote their names into the lineup for the first time on September 9. We set the Ramones 8-track aside and listened to the game. The nineteen-year old Trammell went 2 for 3.
We opened the paper one spring morning in 1984, when Tram was the shortstop half of baseball’s best double-play combo, to find the Tigers atop the East with a 35-5 record. Forty games in, and they were already thirty over break-even. Even from our perspective, as close as we were to the Tigers, they were beyond amazing.
They rolled over the Royals in the LCS, and the Padres in the World Series. Alan Trammell was the Series MVP. It was the last time the baseball gods would nod favorably in his direction.
Three years later, the Tigers caught and passed Toronto in the last week to win the East. Tram hit .343. George Bell, from the losing Blue Jays, was the league MVP.
He served as Tiger hitting coach under Larry Parrish in 1999. Come 2000 and a new manager, Phil Garner, there was no place in the dugout for him. Trammell (2,293 games, 2,365 hits) gave way to Bruce Fields (58 games, 31 hits).. He became the Padres’ first base coach. We felt uneasy seeing him wearing a cap with SD on it. He was someone we thought would be a Tiger forever.
Phil Garner was let go six games into 2002. Luis Pujols managed the last 156 as a lame-duck skipper. 2003 represented the fifteenth year of the Tigers’ five-year rebuilding program. They needed a manager, and for a while it seemed very possible that no one would want the job.
Alan Trammell said yes.
He asked Kirk Gibson and Lance Parrish to join his coaching staff. Tiger PR that spring featured the reunited heroes of 1984. When one’s marketing campaign is built around the manager and coaches, and not the team on the field, trouble lurks over the horizon.
The Tigers didn’t fool anyone. They lost 119 times, and only five wins in their last six games kept them from setting a new major league record for losses in a season. Things would be better in 2004, though. (They couldn’t get much worse.)
The win total increased by 29 but, as 2005 dragged on, a mutinous air hung over Comerica. Some of Tram’s players quit on him. Even the ticket takers knew he wouldn’t be back next year. His reward, for taking the Tigers off the spot, was the pink slip.
The team Tram and his coaches shaped made it to the World Series under Jim Leyland in 2006. They backed in, fading over the last eight weeks and limping into post-season as the wild card, but they got there.
Alan Trammell is now the Cubs’ bench coach. His presence next to Lou Piniella gives The Baseball Fan and I another reason to root for the North Siders. Besides come on and win it already, so we don’t have to hear about billy goats and black cats and Steve Bartman.
He played on one great team (1984), one good team (1987), a lot of ordinary teams, and a few really bad ones (59-103 in 1989), in unglamorous Detroit. He didn’t do back-flips like Ozzie Smith, and wasn’t the wizard of anything. All he did was come to the park each day and play hard. He was someone you had to watch every day, over the course of a season, to appreciate.
In his six years of Hall of Fame eligibility, he’s never been named on more than 18 percent of the ballots, far short of the 75 percent needed for induction.
The Baseball Fan and I look towards this month’s Hall of Fame election with the hope that Alan Trammell receives more than a handful of votes from a few charitable writers. As one of the top two or three players at his position in his time, he deserves a plaque.