Whitaker, Evans, and Munson Get Long-Overdue Turns on Modern Baseball Ballot

“What about Whitaker?” That question, which has been on my mind for nearly two decades, came to the fore two years ago when longtime Tigers teammates Jack Morris and Alan Trammell, both of whom spent 15 often contentious and sometimes agonizing years on the BBWAA’s Hall of Fame ballot, were finally elected to the Hall by the Modern Baseball Era Committee. With five All-Star selections, three Gold Gloves, and a central role on the Tigers’ 1984 championship squad, Lou Whitaker had accumulated similarly strong credentials to Trammell while forming the other half of the longest-running double play combo in major league history, one that did a fair bit to prop up Morris’ wobbly candidacy. Yet Whitaker, who ranks 13th in JAWS among second basemen, did not get his 15 years on the writers’ ballot because in his 2001 debut — the last Hall of Fame election cycle that I did not cover, but a pivotal one in many ways — he failed to receive at least 5% of the vote from the BBWAA and thus fell off the ballot. Like so many other candidates who have suffered such a fate, he had never received a second look from a small-committee process. Until now.

Whitaker is one of 10 candidates on the 2020 Modern Baseball Era Committee ballot, which was announced on Monday and which covers players and other figures who made their greatest contributions to the game during the 1970-87 timeframe. He’s not the only one emerging from limbo, either. This marks the first small-committee appearance for longtime Red Sox right fielder Dwight Evans, an eight-time Gold Glove winner who lasted just three cycles on the ballot (1997-99) and peaked at 10.4%, and for late Yankees catcher Thurman Munson, a former MVP who lasted 15 years on the ballot (1981-95) but only in his debut year broke double digits. Munson was virtually ignored on the 2003, ’05, and ’07 ballots voted upon by an expanded Veterans Committee consisting of all living Hall of Famers (and assorted stragglers), receiving just 12 votes out of a possible 243 across those three cycles.

The other seven candidates — former Major League Baseball Players Association executive director Marvin Miller, and ex-players Steve Garvey, Tommy John, Don Mattingly, Dale Murphy, Dave Parker, and Ted Simmons — have each been considered before, some of them multiple times via the 2018 Modern Baseball ballot and its predecessors, the ’11 and ’14 Expansion Era Committee ballots. Indeed, while this slate includes candidates long overdue for a bronze plaque in Cooperstown, a good chunk of ballot space is occupied by candidates who have repeatedly failed to gain much traction with the voters and who fare poorly via JAWS. The extent to which they have crowded out better candidates has been frustrating.

More on that shortly, but first, some details and background. The candidates will be voted upon by a 16-member panel of Hall of Famers, executives, and media members at the Winter Meetings in San Diego next month; to be elected, they must receive at least 75% of the vote, as they do via the more expansive BBWAA process. The voting results will be announced on Sunday, December 8, with the winners inducted next July 26 in Cooperstown, New York alongside anybody elected by the writers, whose ballot will be announced on November 18 and whose results will be announced on January 21.

The Modern Baseball Era Committee is one of four panels resulting from the 2016 rejiggering of the process by which managers, executives, umpires, and any players who have exhausted their eligibility on the writers’ ballot are considered for election. Up until 2001, that process was simply known as the Veterans Committee, and it had its share of pitfalls, most notably a long history of cronyism that resulted in the election of some inferior candidates, particularly in the 1960s and ’80s. The 2001 election of Bill Mazeroski, a defensive whiz whose JAWS is nonetheless the lowest among enshrined second baseman, produced such an outcry that the institution began a seemingly endless series of overhauls to its process.

In the wake of Mazeroski’s election, the Veterans Committee was expanded to include all living members of the Hall of Fame, all living recipients of the Frick and Spink Awards (broadcasters and writers), and members of the Veterans Committee whose terms had not yet expired. In 2007, after that large group failed to elect anybody in 2003, ’05’, or ’07, the frickin’ Spinkers and the spinkin’ Frickers were stripped of their rights to vote. The remaining group was allowed to vote on post-1943 players, but those from pre-1943, as well as managers, executives, and umpires, were considered on two separate tracks. The 2008 and ’10 processes resulted in the elections of three managers, three executives, and one umpire, but the late Joe Gordon was the only candidate elected for his playing career, that by the pre-1943 committee in 2009. That year, the living Hall of Famers once again pitched a shutout when it came to the postwar candidates.

In 2010, the Hall disbanded the expanded Veterans Committee and introduced three, 16-member Era Committees voting on a triennial cycle, namely the Pre-Integration Era (1871–1946), Golden Era (’47–72), and Expansion Era (’73 onward). In two full times through the order, none of them elected a living ex-player, and combined, they honored just two ex-players (2012 Golden Era choice Ron Santo and ’13 Pre-Integration choice Deacon White) out of eight total honorees, with complete shutouts of both the ’15 Golden and ’16 Pre-Integration slates. In the summer of the latter year, the Hall announced the reorganization of the process into four different periods, with the earlier ones — namely the Early Baseball and Golden Days Era Committees, respectively covering players whose greatest contributions occurred during the 1871-1949 and 1950-69 periods — considered less frequently across a 10-year cycle than the Modern Baseball and Today’s Game (1988 onward) slates:

2017: Today’s Game
2018: Modern Baseball
2019: Today’s Game
2020: Modern Baseball
2021: Golden Days and Early Baseball
2022: Today’s Game
2023: Modern Baseball
2024: Today’s Game
2025: Modern Baseball
2026: Golden Days

Note that years refer to those of induction; the ballots are released the previous November and voted upon in December.

Former commissioner Bud Selig and longtime executive John Schuerholz were the only candidates elected on the 2017 ballot, with Morris and Trammell following the next year as the first living ex-players elected by a small committee since Mazeroski. Last winter, in the second go-round for Today’s Game, Harold Baines and Lee Smith were elected, with the choice of the former — who accumulated 2,866 hits in his career but compiled just 38.7 bWAR and 30.1 JAWS, with the latter now 75th among right fielders — widely criticized. Baines topped out at 6.1% in five chances on the writers’ ballot, the lowest mark of any honoree from the post-1960 expansion era, but what really drew fire was the makeup of the electorate, which had several connections to the candidates, an inescapable fact of longevity but also a reminder of the Veterans Committee’s aforementioned history of cronyism. The panel included White Sox team owner Jerry Reinsdorf (who agreed to retire Baines’ jersey number while he was still active, after he had been traded away), and Hall of Famers Tony LaRussa (who managed Baines in both Chicago and Oakland), and Pat Gillick (who served as GM of the Orioles while Baines was there in 1997-98). Smith had connections to Hall of Famers Ozzie Smith and Joe Torre (respectively his teammate and manager in St. Louis) and Greg Maddux, his teammate in Chicago.

Perhaps in an effort to downplay such connections or decrease the potential for lobbying, since the move to the post-2016 format, the Hall has stopped announcing actual voting panels far in advance. Last year’s 16-member panel, which consisted of nine Hall of Famers (including two apiece elected as managers and executives), four current executives, and three media members, was revealed on December 3, 2018, six days ahead of the election. We likely won’t learn who’s on this committee until just a few days prior to election, and you can bet that the Hall’s critics and anybody else interested in the upcoming result will be keeping their eyes peeled.

Back to the specifics. As gratifying as it is to see the candidacies of Whitaker, Evans, and Munson get their long-awaited turns, the reality is that they’re hardly alone in being overlooked to this point. This period is overflowing with viable candidates. Below is a sortable table showing those who were considered by the aforementioned older committees but failed to gain entry while Gillick (2011), La Russa, Torre, and Bobby Cox (all ’14), and Morris and Trammell (’18) were elected. Those leftovers are shown alongside a similarly-sized group of players eligible for consideration but left off those ballots:

The Modern Baseball Era Committee Ballot and Backlog
Player Pos. JAWS Jpos Dif Pos Rk BBWAA% 2011 2014 2018 2020
Bobby Grich 2B 58.7 56.9 1.8 8 2.6% Off
Lou Whitaker 2B 56.5 56.9 -0.4 13 2.9% ON
Graig Nettles  3B 55.2 55.7 -0.5 12 8.3% Off
Ted Simmons C 42.6 44.7 -2.1 10 3.7% <50% <37.5% 68.8% ON
Buddy Bell 3B 53.4 55.7 -2.3 15 1.7% Off
Sal Bando 3B 53.0 55.7 -2.7 16 0.7% Off
Thurman Munson C 41.6 44.7 -3.1 12 15.5% ON
Keith Hernandez 1B 50.8 54.8 -4.0 19 10.8% Off
Dwight Evans RF 52.2 56.8 -4.6 15 10.4% ON
Rick Reuschel SP 56.6 61.5 -4.9 49 0.4% Off
Reggie Smith RF 51.6 56.8 -5.2 16 0.7% Off
Willie Randolph 2B 51.1 56.9 -5.8 17 1.1% Off
Luis Tiant SP 55.1 61.5 -6.4 57 30.9% <18.8%* <18.8%* <43.8% Off
Dan Quisenberry RP 23.6 32.5 -8.9 21 3.8% <37.5% Off
Dave Stieb SP 50.4 61.5 -11.1 71 1.4% Off
Tommy John SP 48.0 61.5 -13.5 85 31.7% <50% <37.5% <43.8% ON
Dale Murphy  CF 43.9 57.8 -13.9 25 23.2% <43.8% ON
Don Mattingly  1B 39.1 54.8 -15.7 39 28.2% <43.8% ON
Rusty Staub RF 39.6 56.8 -17.2 36 7.9% <50% Off
Dave Parker RF 38.7 56.8 -18.1 39 24.5% <37.5% <43.8% ON
Ron Guidry SP 42.9 61.5 -18.6 119 8.8% <50% Off
Vida Blue SP 41.7 61.5 -19.8 130 8.7% <50% Off
Dave Concepcion SS 35.0 55.0 -20.0 46 16.9% 50% <37.5% Off
Steve Garvey 1B 33.4 54.8 -21.4 51 41.6% <50% <37.5% <43.8% ON
Al Oliver CF 35.9 57.8 -21.9 50 4.3% <50% Off
Billy Martin Mgr <50% <37.5% Off
Marvin Miller Exec 68.8% <37.5% 43.8% ON
George Steinbrenner Exec <50% <37.5% Off
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference
Jpos = JAWS standard at the position. Dif = JAWS – Jpos. BBWAA% = highest share of the vote while on the writers’ ballot. * = While all of the other candidates shown were eligible for the Expansion Era Committee ballots (covering those whose greatest contribution occurred from 1973 onward) prior to the Modern Baseball ones, Tiant was considered as part of the 2012 and ’15 Golden Era Committee ballots (covering those whose greatest contribution occurred in 1947-72 span).

Prior to this year, only one of the period’s top dozen unelected players in terms of JAWS differential (the gap between his score and the standard at the position) was on any recent ballot, namely Simmons, who has traveled quite a road from oblivion to the precipice of election. The longtime Cardinals backstop, who ranks 10th at the position in JAWS, went one-and-done on the 1994 ballot and thus was ineligible for consideration until 2009, the point at which his BBWAA candidacy would have expired. Thankfully, his credentials, which include eight All-Star appearances and totals of 2,472 hits and 248 homers, have impressed the Historical Overview Committee, a panel of 11 BBWAA elders that builds the ballots, enough for him to gain placement on committee ballots. That itself is exceptional; that he’s gained enough momentum to have fallen just one vote short of election in 2018 is nearly miraculous. Grich has yet to get past the ballot’s gatekeepers, and Whitaker is only now doing so. Meanwhile, 12 candidates with lower JAWS than that nearly-doomed dozen have combined for 20 ballot appearances over the past decade, with Concepcion the only one to break out from the “less than” group — the ones whose actual levels of support are obscured when the totals are announced, so as to avoid embarrassing any candidate.

This time around, four candidates from that upper dozen are on the ballot — an improved state of affairs — but now the issue is that they’re in such direct competition that gaining consensus could prove difficult. Each of the 16 members is allowed to vote for as many as four candidates, meaning that there are a maximum of 64 votes available in what Joe Posnanski termed “a mathematical mousetrap” back in December 2014 (on the occasion of the ’15 Golden Era shutout) while discussing the issue with MLB Advanced Media’s Tom Tango:

Tom Tango explains it this way: Let’s say all ten candidates on the ballot were equally qualified for the Hall of Fame. That’s not quite true here, but it’s a good starting point — you had 10 good candidates. If they’re all equally good candidates, then each one had a 40% chance of getting picked for a ballot — 10 players on the ballot, voter chooses four, 40% chance. Pretty simple.

Well, if a player has a 40% chance of being on one ballot, his chances on making 12 of 16 is … get ready for it, less than 0.5%. That’s not 5% — it is less than one-half of one-percent. 995 times out of a 1,000, the player would NOT get elected. And remember, that’s assuming every voter uses all four of his votes.

Gulp. That mathematical barrier helps to explain the dearth of living ex-players elected by the various small committees in recent years, shutouts and shortfalls that have led to heartbreak (think 90-something-year-old Minnie Miñoso dying just months after falling short on the aforementioned Golden Era ballot), endless griping, and near-endless tinkering.

I can almost hear you rolling your eyes at the notion that after so long with ballots that don’t have enough good candidates, we now have one that has too many. But much as the ongoing candidacies of Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens have siphoned off votes that could go towards other worthy candidates on the BBWAA ballots, the same is true of Miller, arguably the single most important non-player in baseball history and a candidate who should have been elected decades ago. Instead of Simmons being enshrined already, he has to battle Munson for support among those inclined to recognize somebody from a position underrepresented within the Hall, so perhaps we should thank our lucky stars that Whitaker isn’t similarly paired with Grich, or Evans with Reggie Smith. Mind you, I’m not convinced that all of the top 12 players on the above table need to be elected; considerations outside of WAR and JAWS are always germane to the discussion, and even JAWS can’t sell me on the merits of Reuschel ahead of Tiant, whose modest support in three previous committee appearances is presumably why he’s not here this time, even if some of the other reheated candidates are.

Over the next two weeks, I’ll have far more to say about the 10 candidates on the ballot, most of whom I wrote about during my nearly six-year run at Sports Illustrated. I’ll break out the JAWS but also go deeper into their careers, if not as deep as I do for my BBWAA ballot profiles. As there are enough excerpts from The Cooperstown Casebook already in circulation, I won’t publish the full essays on Simmons and Whitaker that I wrote specifically for that tome (I’ll send any actual voter a book, though), but that doesn’t mean I won’t offer enough to make their cases. After all, in the case of Whitaker, I’ve been waiting nearly two decades for this chance.

We hoped you liked reading Whitaker, Evans, and Munson Get Long-Overdue Turns on Modern Baseball Ballot by Jay Jaffe!

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Brooklyn-based Jay Jaffe is a senior writer for FanGraphs, the author of The Cooperstown Casebook (Thomas Dunne Books, 2017) and the creator of the JAWS (Jaffe WAR Score) metric for Hall of Fame analysis. He founded the Futility Infielder website (2001), was a columnist for Baseball Prospectus (2005-2012) and a contributing writer for Sports Illustrated (2012-2018). He has been a recurring guest on MLB Network and a member of the BBWAA since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @jay_jaffe.

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CC AFC
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CC AFC

It’s about time for Whitaker to get in. More fWAR and bWAR than Trammell. Higher OBP and SLG. Higher wRC+. Across a very similar number of plate appearances, too. It’s almost as if there’s some other explanation for how differently they were treated by voters. I can’t possibly think of a difference between them that would explain that, though…

olethros
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olethros

It’s the grit.

Alby
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Member
Alby

I agree, but they can also hide behind the fact that Trammell played the tougher defensive position.

emh1969
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emh1969

I know where you¿re coming from but I think that’s a bit unfair.

For one thing, none of the measures that you cited were in existence when Trammell and Whitaker debuted on the ballot.

Based on what voters had to go on/valued at the time, there were legitimate reasons to prefer Trammell over Whitaker.

-More important defensive position (SS vs 2B)
-More Gold Gloves at that more important defensive position (4 vs 3)
-More All-Star Game Appearances (6 vs 5)
-Better performance in MVP voting
-More times batting over .300 (5 vs 1)

Also, looks like the ballot was slightly easier the year that Trammell debuted which may have helped him stay on past the first ballot.

Of course, you also ignored advanced metrics that give Trammell a clear advantage such as peak WAR. And the fact that he has a higher Jaws ranking at his position.

And if race is the primary driving issue, then how to explain the treatment of fellow second baseman Bobby Grich?

CC AFC
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CC AFC

Well, if you want to go to traditional stats, Whitaker had more HR, Runs, and RBI than Trammel while Trammel committed more errors. It’s just really stretching to justify Trammell getting more than 12 times the percentage of votes that Whitaker got, no matter what you look at.

Things like gold gloves, all star game appearances, and mvp voting are all driven by…voting. So none of those really indicate that Trammel was actually a better performer, just that the relevant population at the time perceived him as a better performer, while there is not any objective data to back that up. That is, of course, exactly what has happened with the hall of fame to this point, which I hope will be rectified in short order.

emh1969
Member
emh1969

Ummm….he didn’t get “12 times the percentage of votes”. Heck, I’m not even sure what that’s supposed to mean. Maybe you mean something like “12 percentage points more”???

“Things like gold gloves, all star game appearances, and mvp voting are all driven by…voting.”

And they’re all things that get cited by voters for why they vote for someone for the Hall of Fame. Particularly 20 years ago. Which is why they’re relevant.

Things like HR, RBIs, and runs tend to matter more when someone crosses a particular threshold.

I’m not going to claim that there was no racism involved. But to claim it as the primary factor….sorry but where’s your data??? Meanwhile, I can show you plenty of white players who have been snubbed as well as underqualified minorities who made it in.

Anyway, I’ll leave you with this. An article listing 8 possible reasons why Whitaker got snubbed. Some of those also apply to Trammell, whereas others are unique to Whitaker.

https://www.vintagedetroit.com/blog/2017/12/08/wheres-whitaker-eight-theories-hall-fame-snub/

CC AFC
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Member
CC AFC

I meant that Trammel peaked at around 36% of the vote while Whitaker dropped off the ballot after receiving less than 3% of the vote.

I think you’re missing my point, though. First, I didn’t claim race was the “primary” factor and second, what data do you expect me to provide? You want me to go back and poll all the voters and ask them if they discriminated against Whitaker on the basis of his race? Of course every single person is going to deny they did anything other than look at baseball factors.

The point is that things like how a player was perceived at the time (I believe Trammel was perceived to be the better player at the time) and whether he won awards that were voted upon like gold gloves, all star appearances, and mvp votes are influenced by any number of factors, including implicit biases. My point further, is that if you look at the objective facts, e.g. their respective fWAR and bWAR, their traditional counting stats, there is no real argument that Trammel was significantly superior to Whitaker. And if some sportswriters are using “Trammel hit .300 in more seasons than Whitaker did” as a real factor, then they have no idea how baseball works and should lose their ballot.

Whitaker is easily the equal of Trammel and there is no way you can reconcile the disparity in their treatment by objective measures.

emh1969
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emh1969

Come on…you’re honestly going to claim that you weren’t talking about race in your original comment?

“It’s almost as if there’s some other explanation for how differently they were treated by voters. I can’t possibly think of a difference between them that would explain that, though…”

After claiming that they were equal/Whitaker was better? Sorry but I’m not buying that. You’ve tried to bat away every other reasonable explanation so that leaves race as your primary explanation.

And you simply can’t compare what someone got in their first year on the ballot with what someone got on their 11th+ time on the ballot. Apples and oranges.

BTW, the factors that I mentioned…defensive position, gold gloves, All-Star games, batting over .300. etc. were all used by Bill James in his Hall of Fame Monitor. Which he developed to predict who would go in the Hall of Fame. You don’t have to like it but those ARE factors that were considered by voters. Which is why James included them. (and Trammell does lead Whitaker on that measure 118-94).

https://www.baseball-reference.com/about/leader_glossary.shtml#hof_monitor

CC AFC
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CC AFC

I was absolutely talking about race. I’m not running from that. I am absolutely alleging that Whitaker was treated less well to this point because of his race. And for all the trolls out there ready to jump on this, I’m not saying that any voters went in saying “screw Lou Whitaker because of the color of his skin.” What I am saying is that the perception of Whitaker’s merit compared to Trammel’s merit, to this point, has not matched the reality, and I think that is in part due to racial biases, both conscious or otherwise.

As an example, PC1970 below points out that Trammell was more “known” than Whitaker who was a quiet guy. Well, what happens to players of color when they are demonstrative and outspoken? Mostly, they get shit on, like Acuna this postseason. Whereas, someone like Bregman can pimp a home run, then quickly apologize and have it be forgotten. Similarly PC1970 points out that Trammell was a coach and involved in management longer than Whitaker, which may be a (silly but real) factor in how he made it in more quickly. White guys clearly have had better historical access to managerial and front office positions than players of color. If any of this has lead to a more favorable perception of Trammell compared to Whitaker, then race has been a factor. Full stop. Both deserve to be in the hall and I hope they both will be soon.

Learn some reading comprehension before claiming I said something different, FFS. It can be a factor whether it is the primary factor or not.

emh1969
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emh1969

“Learn some reading comprehension before claiming I said something different, FFS”

Oh I understood EXACTLY what you were saying. And by the way, I’ve already acknowledged that racism could have been a factor, so you can stop already with your cute little asides like “FFS”.

Again though, my issue is that you’ve claimed from the very beginning that racism is the ONLY factor in why they were treated differently. You can deny that if you want but it’s clear that’s what you believe. How do I know that?

Both myself and PC1970 have pointed out multiple factors that put Trammell ahead of Whitaker in terms of voters minds. Factors that had NOTHING to do with racism or perceptual biases. And yet you’ve simply ignored or dismissed those because they don’t fit your point of view.

PC1970
Member
PC1970

2 points on this-

1. Whitaker played in Detroit which was (& is) heavily AA dominated. Willie Horton has a statue at Comerica & is honored, likely beyond his actual on field accomplishments. HE was a pillar of Detroit & I don’t think Whitaker was quiet due to some fear of racism. I just think he was a quiet guy who didn’t care about that stuff.

2. While I understand CC’s point about persons of color getting treated worse & believe there is some truth to it, that doesn’t mean minorities have to be quiet. Ozzie Smith & Kirby Puckett were 2 truly beloved AA players who’s careers overlapped Whitaker’s. They were both gregarious, outgoing guys & Ozzie never got hammered for his back flips that I recall. Don Baylor was a different type- stern, serious, leader who would take no guff & very respected. Dusty Baker, Dave Henderson were others. Dave Winfield. Andre Dawson.

If racism has an effect, IMO, it’s a small one.

JohnThacker
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JohnThacker

It’s not really fair to say “12 times the percentage of votes,” as Trammel got 15.7% his first time, declined a bit the next two years, and then bounced around under 20% for nearly ten years. The more accurate “five to six times the percentage of votes” is damning enough.

I have no doubt that if Whitaker had managed to stay on the ballot the first two years, he would have also had an eventual climb in voting as time went on, aided by many people making his case. Same is true for other snubbed players who fell off, like all the center fielders from Kenny Lofton to Andruw Jones or Jim Edmonds.

Spa City
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Spa City

Not just driven by voting, but by flawed voting processes.

Gold Glove voting was by an unconstrained plurality. You could win a gold glove with 2 votes when Trammell played. The infamous Rafael Palmeiro gold glove is an example of what happens with that type of voting process.

PC1970
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PC1970

I know what you’re getting it, but, as someone who grew up following those 80’s Tigers teams, I will say that Trammell AT THAT TIME was considered a better player. Was it race? Not sure, but, Tram did have a couple things in his favor:

– He almost won an MVP (& quite frankly should have) in 1987. That big year elevated him to star status & Whitaker never had a year like that.
– Trammell won a WS MVP in 1984.
– He did have more big years (peaks JAWS of 7 more than Lou), more times over .300, etc.
– Trammell was more of a known player. Whitaker was very quiet & almost thought of as a different guy (This is even mentioned in Bill James New Historical Abstract). If there was a face of the 1980’s Tigers, it was Trammell, not Lou. Fair or not, that does make a difference.
– Lastly, Trammell stayed in baseball as a coach, then manager of Detroit & was a coach for several more years. Whitaker did not. That stuff probably shouldn’t matter, but, that visibility has always helped in HOF voting for the borderline type candidates.

All that said, I hope like hell that Lou gets in. He was my favorite Tiger growing up & certainly deserves the honor.

Paul G.
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Paul G.

There is also the matter that Lou was a bit of a flake. There are not a lot of players who forgot to bring their uniform to an All-Star Game. It’s a little thing, but when a player is on the borderline the little things tend to matter.