There are certain hitters in Major League Baseball that you never want to face in clutch situations. Today’s fans think of names like David Ortiz, Albert Pujols, Manny Ramirez, and Joey Votto. But in the 1980′s, no one wanted to face Alan Trammell with the game on the line. If it were up to me, he would already be in the Baseball Hall of Fame (he received his highest vote total, 23%, in the latest balloting), something I believe the Veterans Committee will eventually recognize down the road (he can only remain on the BBWAA ballot through 2016).
Alan Stuart Trammell was born in Garden Grove, California on February 21, 1958. He was a two-sport star at Kearny High School in San Diego, and had several basketball scholarship offers, including one from the prior year’s NCAA champion, UCLA. But being just six-feet tall, he felt he could go further in baseball and opted to sign with the Detroit Tigers after they made him a second round selection in the 1976 amateur draft. Scouting reports pointed to the prospect of a good fielding shortstop who probably wouldn’t hit much. One even compared him to Tigers’ shortstop Ray Oyler, a career .175 hitter at the time.
Right out of high school, Trammell hit a respectable .271 in rookie ball before receiving a promotion to Double-A Montgomery of the Southern League. Trammell was overmatched at the plate (.171 avg) in a 21 game stint, but when he returned a year later it would be his last year in the minor leagues. 1977 was also the start of a long-lasting friendship/double-play combo with another kid in the Tigers’ system, Lou Whitaker.
Whitaker had played 3rd base the prior two years, but was shifted to 2nd base in 1977 (which would be his last season in the minors as well). The two hit it off immediately, both realizing they had something special going on and pushed each other to be better. Trammell also began to prove the doubters wrong about his batting skills. He hit .291, drove in 50 runs, and with 19 triples, he broke the league’s record (held by Reggie Jackson). The next stop for the duo was the Motor City.
Though Trammell finished fourth in the AL Rookie of the Year voting in 1978, his offense was rather modest his first two seasons in the bigs. His third season in the Majors provided a little more indication of his potential when he hit .300 and slugged .404. Trammell had no issues in the field- he quickly won three Gold Gloves, but it wasn’t until 1983 that he became the consistent offensive force that caused pitchers to think twice about facing him.
Mike DiGiovanna of the LA Times wrote about Trammell earning his stripes with the Tigers in a 1985 piece. Click here to read all about it.
Trammell went on to play 20 big league seasons, in which he compiled 2,365 hits, stole 236 bases, and drove in 1,003 runs. He batted over .300 seven times, was a six-time All-Star, a four-time Gold Glove winner, and was the 1984 World Series MVP (.450-2-6) when he and the Tigers clobbered the Padres in five games to capture Detroit’s first title in 16 years, and just the second since 1945. He finished second (by 21 points) to George Bell in the 1987 AL MVP voting when he set career highs for average (.343), HR (28), and RBI (105).
After he retired following the 1996 season (the only year he played without Whitaker, who had retired after the ’95 season), Trammell went on to coach the Tigers and San Diego Padres before becoming Detroit’s manager in 2003. Unfortunately, Trammell’s managerial career didn’t have the success of his playing career. The team was rebuilding, and lost 119 games in Trammell’s first year. They improved by 29 wins the next season, but when they managed one less win in 2005, Trammell was let go. He’s back in the dugout though, having recently been hired as the Arizona Diamondbacks’ bench coach by his former teammate Kirk Gibson.
Happy Birthday Alan Trammell!
Also Born Today
Franklin Gutierrez (Caracas, VE, 1983): Originally signed by the Dodgers as a 17-yr old, the outfielder was dealt to the Indians in a deal that brought Milton Bradley to the west coast. He saw part-time duty until a three team deal with the the Mariners and the Mets landed him in Seattle prior to the 2009 season. Gutierrez has begun to blossom in the Emerald City, and has been one of the few productive bats on the weak-hitting Mariners teams of the last two seasons. He has 20-20 (HR-SB) ability and plays a graceful centerfield. The latter helped earn him his first Gold Glove Award in 2010.
Jack Billingham (Orlando, FL, 1943): A talented right-hander that signed with the Houston Astros as an amateur free agent in 1961. His best years were with the Cincinnati Reds in the early to late 1970′s. It was there that he twice won a career-high 19 games and led the league in starts, innings pitched, and shutouts in 1973. He was a member of the Big Red Machine that won four division titles, three NL pennants, and back-to-back World Series in 1975-1976. Billingham allowed just nine earned runs in 42 post-season innings (1.93). He’s also well known for giving up Hank Aaron’s 714th career home run on April 4, 1974. After playing with Detroit and Boston, Billingham hung up his baseball mitt in the middle of the 1980 season, but remained involved in baseball as a minor league coach and instructor until his retirement in 2004.