Trammell and Whitaker debuted together 35 years ago

Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker made their major league debuts in the same game on September 9, 1977.

It was 35 years ago today that they made their big league debuts: Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker, the Tiger duo who would go on to play more games together than any other teammates in baseball history.

Back then, in 1977, they were two skinny kids with nothing but potential. They seemed different but were tenuously connected. But they quickly melded into an inseparable tandem, like Martin & Lewis, Abbott & Costello, Bert & Ernie.

Eventually their names morphed into one word that meant consistent excellence: “Trammellandwhitaker.” An amazing 19 seasons together in the Detroit uniform cemented their status as legends.

Here are nine great moments or milestones in their careers. Do you remember them all?

1. First big league game and hits

The two young infielders had been with the Tigers for a few days in September of ’77, called up as late season roster additions after they helped lead the Montgomery Rebels to the Southern League championship. But manager Ralph Houk had yet to write their names in his lineup. Finally, on September 9, Houk started the duo in the second game of a Friday night doubleheader against the Red Sox at Fenway Park. (It should be noted that the Detroit catcher for that game was making his third appearance in a big league game: his name was Lance Parrish.) It was a meaningless game for both teams – each were out of the division race – but credit should go to Houk for realizing it would be more dramatic (and perhaps historically significant) to start both young players together, rather than insert one as a defensive replacement earlier. At the time, Whitaker was considered a slightly more promising prospect. He was faster, was farther ahead as a hitter than Trammell, and he had that golden arm. But Houk wanted to treat “those two young kids” as he called them, as a pair. GM Jim Campbell wanted Whitaker and Trammell to be brought along slowly – and together – if at all possible. the 20-year old Whitaker batted second in the lineup, right behind leadoff man Ron LeFlore, and Trammell hit ninth. He was just 19 years old. In the first inning, facing veteran Boston righty Reggie Cleveland, Whitaker lined a single to right field for his first major league hit. Flashing that speed, two batters later “Sweet Lou” stole second off catcher Bob Montgomery (Carlton Fisk had the game off). A few pitches later, with Steve Kemp at the plate, Cleveland spun and fired a pickoff throw to second which sailed into center field, Whitaker scampering to third base. In his first big league inning, Whitaker was creating some havoc. Unfortunately he was stranded at third when Kemp flied out. Not to be left behind, Trammell singled to center in his first at-bat, with one out in the third inning. Two batters later, Whitaker doubled into the left field corner and Trammell came in to score. Whitaker scored his first run when Rusty Staub followed with a single. In the 6th inning both Trammell and Whitaker singled again. In the game, which Detroit lost 8-6, the two combined for five hits, two runs scored, and an RBI. Late in the game Trammell was removed for pinch-hitter Bob Molinaro. The young tandem performed flawlessly in the field too. Which leads us to….

2. Their first double play

The next afternoon in Fenway Park, September 10, 1977, the Tiger duo turned their first DP. It happened quickly. In the Boston first inning, Bernie Carbo (a Detroit native) walked against Milt Wilcox. The next batter was Fred Lynn, one of the best hitters in baseball. Lynn bounced a grounder to Whitaker who tossed it to Trammell, who relayed it to Jason Thompson at first for the 4-6-3 DP. It was the first of more than 1,300 double plays that the Tiger pair turned together. Two days later in Cleveland against the Indians, they turned their first 6-4-3 DP, victimizing Larvell Blanks.

3. Rookie of the Year “Sweet Lou”

After their brief time on the team in ’77, Whitaker and Trammell were on the 25-man roster out of spring training the next season. It would be their official “rookie” seasons. Houk’s plan was to break them in slowly to replace Steve Dillard (2B) and Mark Wagner (SS). By the first week in May the duo were starting practically every day. Both were creating a buzz with their play in the field, but Whitaker was especially impressive at the plate too. By the end of May, Lou was hitting .320 and there was no way he was going to be budged from second base again. By the end of the season, Whitaker had posted a .286 mark in 139 games with 58 RBI and 71 runs scored. Trammell hit .268 in 139 games. Whereas Tram was hitting in the 9th spot, Whitaker spent much of his time in the #2 hole behind LeFlore. In November, Whitaker was named American League Rookie of the Year. Trammell finished third in voting. It was a great sign of more to come from the tandem.

4. Top of the order and maturation as hitters

At the end of the ’82 season, Tram and Sweet Lou had five full seasons under their belts. In 1980 Trammell had hit .300 and won a Gold Glove, which he won again in ’81. But neither Whitaker or Trammell were potent threats at the plate in those first five seasons. They were singles hitters for the most part, though Whitaker finally became the first of them to break double-digits in homers, with 15 in ’82.  As if by magic, over the off-season from ’82 to ’83, the pair matured physically and came into their own as dangerous hitters. Sparky Anderson had a new plan for the two in ’83: they would be at the top of his order. Up to that time, Tram had hit mostly in the #9 spot (with the exception of 1980 when he hit second) and Whitaker had hit #2 or leadoff. Now, Sparky felt, the pair were ready to spark the Tigers offense. Starting on opening day in ’83, Whitaker was at the top and Trammell was at #2. The move proved wise as the duo responded with .320 (Whitaker) and .319 (Trammell) batting averages. Sweet Lou played in nearly every game, topping 200 hits and scoring 94 runs. More impressively, the lefty-swinging Whitaker boosted his doubles to 40 and hit 12 homers. Trammell, with a new batting stance, hit a career-best 14 home runs and also stole 30 bases. Both players won Gold Gloves, and each received MVP votes, Lou finishing 8th and Tram finishing 15th.

5. First-inning punch and The Roar of ’84

Many words have been written about the Tigers magical 1984 season, when they led from wire-to-wire and stampeded their competition on the way to a World Series title. So, I won’t go into the same-old, same-old here, but instead will look at a few things maybe you didn’t know. In 1984 the Tigers scored more runs in the first inning than any other inning (129) and they were sparked by Whitaker and Trammell at the top of their lineup. Trammell hit a blistering .356 with 29 runs scored in the first inning that season. Whitaker got on base 45 times to start a game that year in 131 starts. In the post-season they were even more pesky. In both Game One and Game Two of the LCS against Kansas City, Whitaker got on base to lead off the game and then Trammell drove him in with a triple in Game One. The Tigers jumped out to 2-0 first inning leads in both games, which they won. The Tigers scored in the first inning in four of the five games in the World Series against the Padres: in Game One, Whitaker doubled and Tram singled him in; in Game Two they both singled and scored in the first; in Game Four Sweet Lou reached on an error and Trammell followed with a home run; in Game Five Whitaker led off with a single which sparked a three-run inning that bounced the San Diego starter from the game after retiring just one batter. In all, in 10 plate appearances by Whitaker/Trammell in the first innings of the ’84 Series, the pair reached base eight times and scored seven runs. Roar!

6. The MVP that should have been

The 1987 Tigers featured many of the same core players from the ’84 club with one glaring exception: cleanup hitter Lance Parrish had been let go via free agency. Into that hole in the #4 spot, Sparky inserted Alan Trammell. It seemed like a decent idea at the time, since the 29-year old Trammell was by this time an established All-Star and respected hitter. But after the ’87 season was done, Sparky’s move had to be called genius. Trammell hit .343 with 28 homers, 105 RBI, 205 hits, 109 runs scored, and 21 steals. He did it all at the plate, and in the field he still teamed with Lou up the middle. In September and October, as the Tigers battled the Blue Jays for the division title, Trammell batted .417 with seven homers and 20 RBI in 33 games. In the final weekend series against those Jays, when Sparky’s club clinched the division with a sweep, Tram hit a game-winning home run on Friday and got on base seven times. Inexplicably, a few months later the baseball writers announced that George Bell of Toronto had been named AL Most Valuable Player. It was a sham, of course. No baseball fan thought Bell had been more valuable than Trammell in ’87. One was a great fielding shortstop hitting cleanup for the first time and delivering key hits down the stretch to help his team to the playoffs. The other was a terrible outfielder who was better suited for DH and choked down the stretch. But Trammell did get something very special to take the place of the MVP Award he should have won. After the final game of the regular season, the 1-0 victory on Sunday over the Blue Jays, Whitaker grabbed second base as he left the field after the final out. In the clubhouse he grabbed a marker and signed the base: “To Alan Trammell, 1987 MVP”. The item remains one of Tram’s most cherished baseball artifacts.

7. Most games as teammates

Having debuted on the same day in 1977, by 1995, to say that Whitaker and Trammell knew each other well was an understatement.

“It’s to the point where I know where he’ll be without even looking,” Trammell said. “We’ve been doing it so long that we can predict each other’s moves.”

On September 13, 1995, at Tiger Stadium, the pair set a new major league record by appearing together in a game for the 1,915th time. The milestone eclipsed the former record held by a couple of other infielders  - George Brett and Frank White of the Kansas City Royals. Trammell went hitless in the game, but Sweet Lou provided magic in the ninth inning. With Detroit trailing the Brewers, 3-2, Phil Nevin singled to lead off the frame against Milwaukee closer Mike Fetters. Two batters later, Fetters walked Chad Curtis. Whitaker stepped in and lined the first pitch – a fastball – into the right field lower deck for a three-run, game-winning homer. Todd Steversen, the pinch-runner who scored in front of Whitaker, had only been a teammate of Sweet Lou’s for about four weeks. But Trammell had seen Sweet Lou deliver clutch hits many times in the 1,914 games they’d previously played together.

8. Last game together at The Corner

It was a Thursday afternoon game in the final week of a miserable season and less than 15,000 fans came out to Tiger Stadium to see the team face the visiting Baltimore Orioles. But for those who did (including myself) they saw history. The game was a joke – the O’s pummeled six Tiger pitchers for 16 hits and 13 runs to win the game, 13-1. The Tigers were finishing up the 1995 season with their final home game. The season had started late due to a player’s strike which had cancelled the previous World Series. Baseball fans everywhere were a bit surly and miffed. But this game on September 21 had significance – it was the last time Whitaker and Trammell would play at The Corner. Sweet Lou had announced his retirement in mid-season, and though Trammell insisted that he still had more baseball left in him, this was the end of a chapter for him as well. What we didn’t know was if Sparky Anderson would come back in ’96, but there was a growing possibility that he would not. The Tiger skipper had taken a stand when the owners threatened to use replacement players during the strike, a move that severed his already tenuous relationship with Tigers owner Mike Ilitch. So, this meaningless game against the O’s in mid-week was the last time Trammell and Whitaker (or anyone else) would be managed by Sparky in Detroit. The gray-haired Tiger manager started Lou and Tram at second and short and even batted them back-to-back, in the fifth and sixth slots in his order. Neither player collected a hit that day (Baltimore starter Mike Mussina was stingy), but in the 9th, when Sweet Lou led off (fittingly), Mussina told his catcher to inform the veterans that they would see nothing but fastballs down the middle. Perhaps the two Tigers didn’t want the benefit of knowing what was coming or maybe they didn’t believe it, but each of them hit grounders to third base early in the count and that was the end of their partnership together in Detroit. They would play one more game together as teammates – the final Sunday of the season in Baltimore, when Sparky hit them #1 and #2 in his lineup and allowed them each to bat once before pulling them. Even in Baltimore, the duo received polite applause. That was the last game Sparky managed in the big leagues.

9. The final game at Tiger Stadium

The post-game celebration after the last game at The Corner in 1999 could have been handled in so many different ways. But the way the Tigers handled it was practically perfect. With the field cleared, the stadium announcer introduced players from Tigers history as they ran out from the warning track in deep center field and took their spot in their old positions. The first player was Mark “The Bird” Fidrych, who got the festivities off to a loud start with thunderous applause from the standing-room only crowd. Others followed: Don Wert and Aurelio Rodriguez and Tom Brookens to third base; Bill Freehan and Lance Parrish and Matt Nokes behind the plate; Cecil Fielder and Darrell Evans and Jason Thompson to first base; Willie Horton and Mickey Stanley and Kirk Gibson to the outfield; Dick McAuliffe to second; Al Kaline – of course Al Kaline – one of the last to ascend, going to his spot in right field. Players from every era of Tigers history who were still alive and kicking, and some who barely were, trotted onto the sacred field. Then, Trammell and Whitaker came out together, the final ballplayers to emerge onto the field. They ran side-by-side to second base, each stomping a foot on the bag, shaking hands, and waving to the crowd. There were a few more pounds around Sweet Lou’s middle, but otherwise the duo looked like they could have turned a double play. The crowd of course, went crazy. The fact that Sweet Lou and Tram were the last Tiger greats to come onto the field that day secured their special place together in Detroit Tiger history.

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About Dan Holmes

The editor of Detroit Athletic Co. blog, is the author of Ty Cobb: A Biography. He was formerly the Web Producer for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, NY, and worked for Major League Baseball as a producer. He contributed to Sock it to 'Em Tigers: The Incredible Story of the 1968 Detroit Tigers, and Deadball Stars of the American League. Follow him on Twitter at @thedanholmes or visit his personal blog at danholmes.com.