There are probably a dozen different story lines to explore when it comes to Detroit Tigers second baseman Lou Whitaker. For sake of brevity I’m going to stick to the two that most stand out.
Whitaker is most often remembered as the statistical twin of Hall of Fame double play partner Alan Trammell. Though the two are rarely mentioned without the other, it is a game in which they were separated that most sticks in my mind. Whitaker was selected to represent Detroit in the 1985 All-Star Game. He dutifully packed his bag for the game in Minnesota but forgot to pack most of his Tigers uniform. Whitaker scrambled with clubhouse attendants to find suitable attire, resulting in a homemade uniform in one of the sport’s most watched games. Whitaker donned his Tigers pants, stirrups from Minnesota, Bert Blyleven’s batting helmet, Toronto Blue Jays batting gloves, and a mitt from Cal Ripken. His hat and shirt were purchased from a stadium souvenir stand and a set of markers was hastily employed to add his uniform number. The result wasn’t pretty, but he managed to bat through the order twice before coming out of the game. Today the makeshift jersey is part of the Smithsonian’s collection.
I WANT A BETTER ELECTORATE
Remember when Ken Griffey, Jr. came up on his first Hall of Fame ballot and received less than 3% of the votes despite averaging nearly 5 wins above replacement every 162 games? He was unceremoniously relegated to the purview of the Modern Baseball Committee and a handful of fans occasionally vented online about it. If only he had an iconic game that people remembered.
That, of course, is partially made up. I say partially because the statement could be made true by replacing Griffey’s name with Lou Whitaker. Over the course of their careers Griffey and Whitaker produced almost identical WAR per 162 games played (4.7 vs. 4.6). The difference was Griffey was considered a star. His status as a baseball icon (and an insanely good peak period) carried his reputation over the final decade of his career. Whitaker showed up and quietly set about keeping the Tigers in contention year after year, never really showing a decline over a two decades. When Hall of Fame voters looked at his credentials only 2.9% saw Whitaker as worthy of induction.
The arguments against Whitaker are that he didn’t hit many offensive milestones, was a steady performer rather than a dominating offensive force, and did not endear himself to the media. Each one of these is true, though the overall impact he had on Detroit was large and he compares quite favorably with existing members of the Hall of Fame.
Below appears the career stats of live ball era second basemen inducted into the Hall of Fame after the year 2000. Notice that many of Whitaker’s stats are in line with recent HOF selections. He appears to have stolen fewer bases but hit the ball just a bit harder than his peers while racking up better defensive and total WAR numbers.
|Lou Whitaker (Outside HOF)
|Ryne Sandberg (2005)
|Roberto Alomar (2011)
|Bill Mazeroski (2001)
|Craig Biggio (2015)
|Joe Gordon (2009)
|Average Recent HOF 2B
All in, Whitaker contributed far more to his team’s success over his career than many other Hall of Fame contemporaries. He possess better WAR/162 games than Alomar, Sandberg, Tony Gwynn, Paul Molitor, and Robin Yount, just to name a few. The Modern Baseball Committee will meet again in December 2023 to consider potential Hall of Fame candidates. Whitaker deserves to be near the top of their agenda when they hash out who will get a 2024 Cooperstown invitation.
I lied when I said I would only cover two story lines. Did you know Lou Whitaker (and Alan Trammell) were also in an episode of Magnum PI?