Why Doesn’t Alan Trammell’s Career Get Any Respect?

Leading up to this year’s Hall of Fame voting, there has been a noticeable push from some writers and fans to elect Tim Raines, who is on the ballot for the eighth time.   While I believe that Raines deserves enshrinement, I find it odd that one of his contemporaries, who is quietly on the ballot for the fourteenth time, has never received the same type of campaign.

It is such a complete and utter shame that Alan Trammell’s career has not been given the respect it so clearly deserves.

When it comes to deciding who the best shortstop in the American League was in the 1980s, the decision can only be viewed as a two man race between Trammell and Cal Ripken.  While Ripken certainly went on to have the much more prolific overall career, deciding which shortstop was tops during the decade is really a coin flip.

Don’t believe me? Well, compare Trammell’s stats to his other contemporaries (starting with 1982, which is Ripken’s first full season):

AVG OBP SLG OPS OPS+ WAR
Trammell .293 .358 .445 .804 122 50.7
Ripken .275 .348 .458 .806 123 58
Ozzie Smith .268 .350 .342 .692 93 49.5
Robin Yount .302 .370 .474 .844 133 45.6

 

I included Yount (who does not really belong on this list because he was moved to the outfield after the 1984 season) and Smith (who played in the National League) on this list for purposes of additional perspective.  Trammell’s numbers are certainly not dwarfed by the statistics put up by any of these players.  Yet, Trammell’s Cooperstown train has gained little momentum over the years.

Part of the problem may simply be due to perception or memory (or both).

For example, a lot of people wrongly believe that, unlike other Hall of Famers, Trammell did not have any career defining moments.  This position ignores the reality that Trammell led the Tigers to the team’s first World Series championship in sixteen years and was the 1984 World Series MVP, hitting .450 with 2 homeruns and six RBI.

Additionally, Trammell was basically robbed of the American League MVP in 1987 when he finished second by only 11 points) to George Bell.   In hindsight, Trammell’s season (.343/.402/.551/.953 with 28 HR, 105 RBI, 21 SB, 8.2 WAR) was far superior to Bell’s (5.0 WAR), but Bell’s home run and RBI totals (47, 134) clearly swayed the voters.

How much more favorable would today’s voters look upon Trammell’s candidacy if people described him as the only shortstop in history to win both a league MVP and a World Series MVP?

Another perception issue may relate to the fact that Trammell’s offensive career did not follow a clean trajectory.  He did not burst onto the scene like Ripken nor did he ever have a six or seven year stretch of consistently great offensive production.  Instead, with the exception of his 1983-1984 seasons, Trammell’s best seasons were scattered in between average years.

Perhaps the lack of reverence for Trammell has to do with his last few years in the league and the ultimate timing of his retirement.

Due to injuries, Trammell’s last six years in the league were about as unmemorable as they get.  He never amassed more than 450 plate appearances in a season, hit a combined .275/.336/.396/.732, and was moved off of shortstop for other players, such as Travis Fryman.  Players are not eligible for election to the Hall of Fame until five years after retirement, which meant that by the time writers had the chance to vote for Trammell, over ten years had elapsed from Trammell’s last truly great season.

Trammell also had the misfortune to retire in 1996, which is the same year the Wizard Ozzie Smith hung up his cleats.  Although his lifetime batting statistics are somewhat modest, Smith’s defensive prowess was legendary.  Smith’s iconic status apparently caused many to forget that Trammell was no defensive slouch at the position (career 22.0 defensive WAR with a .977 fielding percentage).

Trammell’s retirement also came just as the next generation of shortstops was entering the league.  Over the next few years, players such as Alex Rodriguez, Miguel Tejada and Nomar Garciaparra made thirty-home run seasons (a threshold Trammell never reached) commonplace.

This confluence of factors has unfairly translated into Trammell never receiving higher than 20% of the vote during his first eight years on the ballot.

One final note on Trammell:  his career statistics parallel those of Hall of Famer Barry Larkin:

AVG OBP SLG OPS HITS HR RBI SB WAR
Larkin .295 .371 .444 .815 2340 198 960 379 70.2
Trammell .285 .352 .415 .767 2365 185 1003 236 70.4

 

Given the totality of his career, I see no reason why Trammell should be left out of the Hall of Fame.  Trammell was neck-and-neck with Cal Ripken for the title of best AL shortstop of the 1980s, and his career statistics are on par with Larkin.  This is not a case of a player squeaking in; Trammell is squarely a Hall of Famer.

(Photo Courtesy of Wikipedia.)

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