So where do your day-dream exploits take you? A celebrated chef? Perhaps a king of Wall Street traders? How about an Oscar win for best actor/actress? Are you famous beyond belief or just privately revered by a few?
I’ve definitely had my share of Walter Mitty moments, almost all inspired by personal heroes of mine.
occasional embarrassingly commonplace air guitar moments, I am a killer Stephen Stills; On many a long drive after listening to the news, I become a modern-day George Kennan negotiating sticky issues with foreign governments; And, laughably, when I write posts for this blog, I morph into a hybrid of Dave Barry and David Sedaris. A boy can dream, right?
But without a doubt my most enduring Mitty-type fantasy was to have the baseball talents and professionalism of former Detroit Tiger Alan Trammell. My fertile mind had me leaping and preventing “sure hit” line drives, turning impossible double plays along with my infield partner Lou Whitaker, and producing late-inning clutch hits with runners in scoring position. On top of everything, I had the respect of my teammates and opposing players in being a low-key gentleman of the game.
Sure, it might have been more fun to pick a flashier player like Reggie Jackson or Pete Rose. But Tram embodied a steadiness and dedication which I admired more than anything else.
Baseball meant the world to me while growing up in suburban Detroit. I idolized the Tigers of my early childhood, particularly the 1968 World Series champions of Al Kaline, Mickey Lolich, Willie Horton, and “Stormin’ Norman” Cash. But as I entered my late teens, and players magically became closer to my own age, I quickly embraced the new generation of young Tigers. They were led by Trammell, Whitaker, pitcher Jack Morris, and a brash, muscular outfielder named Kirk Gibson. Each in his own way was talented and exciting, and all of us under a certain age knew we could pin our hopes on this group led by manager Sparky Anderson.
They didn’t disappoint. In 1984 they opened with a 9–0 start, were 35–5 after 40 games, and never relinquished the lead during the entire season. It only took them only five games to dispense with the San Diego Padres and win the World Series that year. To my utter delight Trammell was named the series MVP.
Unfortunately that turned out to be the apex of my interest in baseball and sports in general. Each year after I followed events less and less, culminating in a near total blackout ten years later when a strike ended the baseball season for good. With the exception of a handful of players (Cal Ripken and Tony Gwynn come to mind) the game seemed to be full of spoiled, millionaire players who bounced from team to team looking for the best contract and displaying no loyalties to fans or a home city. For their part, team owners displayed a different kind of greed by blackmailing municipalities into building taxpayer-funded stadiums and demanding huge tax breaks (see Reinsdorf, Jerry).
All of this turned me off. I slowly looked for other diversions and interests.
But I still kept one eye on Tram. Of course, he stayed loyal to the Tigers right through to the end of his career in 1996. I had wanted him to retire a couple of years earlier because I was overly conscious of his statistics and feared that a declining season performance would jeopardize any chance of him becoming eligible for the Hall of Fame. His love for the game, however, kept him playing. And by virtue of that, his career batting average ebbed lower. He finished with a respectable 285, but that and his equally respectable 2,365 hits, along with four Gold Glove awards, made him at least in my fearful eyes a tragically borderline candidate for Cooperstown.
Others with lower stats had surely got in, and I reminded myself of that constantly. But those were players who were usually part of glorified Yankee, Dodger, or Giant teams. If you were from an occasionally winning midwest team like the Tigers, you needed to produce higher numbers in order to gain acceptance.
I watched in utter frustration from 2002 to 2016 as members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America would cast ballots for those eligible to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. Each year Tram garnered enough votes to stay on the ballot, but he was always second and even third banana to those with stellar metrics and advanced number crunching. The “Moneyball” dynamic, with its reliance on sabermetrics, worked against players like Trammell. Quantifying leadership and sportsmanship doesn’t necessarily fit neatly into mathematical equations. I knew as he reached the end of his eligibility that it would take a review of his peers to finally push him over the hump.
The last stage for a Hall of Fame candidacy that doesn’t make the cut with the baseball writers rests with one of the Hall of Fame Era Committees. In Tram’s case the review recently took place under the aegis of the Modern Baseball Era Committee, which is composed of 16 members, comprised of members of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, executives, and veteran media members. Put simply, these are the dudes who look beyond the numbers and more at the player himself. Statistics are still important, but they aren’t the entire focus.
One week ago today (December 10, 2017), Alan Trammell along with teammate Jack Morris were both elected into the Hall of Fame by the Committee. Morris, the winningest pitcher of the 1980’s, is another one whose Hall candidacy was affected by the emphasis on sabermetrics.¹ I am really happy to see him finally make it in because he was the ace of that winning 1984 championship. But, of course, I am over the moon for my hero, Tram.
Characteristically, he was modest about his success. But he did say one thing that spoke volumes for how I’ve always felt about him:
“I’m proud to have been a Tiger for my entire career. There’s not many guys who can look on the back of their baseball card and see one team. That might not mean a lot to some people, but it means a heck of a lot to me.”
So here’s one for perseverance and steadiness. It’s also nice to see one of the good guys win for a change.
Until next time…
¹ For an advanced explanation of Morris’ and Trammell’s rightful place in the Hall of Fame, this excellent article by Jay Jaffe in Sports Illustrated explains probably more than you might want to know. I can’t say I understand all of it, but his final conclusions are enough for me.