Thursday, January 25, 2007

Trammell's number should be retired

This spring, we’ll see Gary Sheffield trot to his residency in Comerica Park’s outfield wearing the same number that was a staple in the Tigers lineup for two decades.

He’ll do this over and over again, each time appearing as if he’s jogging through molasses, with the customary I-could-care-less-if-I-get-to-right-field-before-the-leadoff-hitter-takes-the-box kind of attitude that has infected major league players for years now.

You’ll abruptly flash back to a scrawny Californian patrolling the middle of Tiger Stadium’s infield, one who hit home runs before it was known shortstops could do such a thing, one who turned double plays in his sleep, and as outrageous as this sounds, one who hustled on and off the field.

You might don a huge smile and think of the 1984 World Series, in which this individual was named MVP, or maybe envision him and his partner-in-crime, Lou Whitaker, twisting one of their signature double plays.

You could even get up, grab a Coke, take a bathroom break, and plop right back down before the first pitch of the inning is thrown because Sheffield will probably still be strolling through the infield.

And, like me, you’ll probably wonder: Why is he wearing Alan Trammell’s number?

It just doesn’t look right. You try to shake the thought out of your head, but you then realize you’re going to have to look at this injustice the entire baseball season.

Trammell’s number, symbolic of hard work, consistency and class, is now sported by Sheffield, and when you think of the aging superstar, you immediately think of steroids and prima donnas everywhere.

Trammell was a ball player. He was what people today mistake major-leaguers for—ballplayers. Today’s players are professionals, not ballplayers. Passion for the game, work ethic, and the absence of ludicrous contracts is what distinguishes the two.

It’s hard to say where Trammell fits in regarding Detroit’s favorite adopted sons. He wasn’t as adored as Steve Yzerman and he didn’t put up the kind of numbers Barry Sanders did, but I’d be hard-pressed to find a Tigers fan that didn’t love him, let alone a baseball fan that didn’t absolutely love the way Trammell played the game.

His fanfare has quietly diminished after last year’s Tigers cast a mammoth-sized shadow over Trammell’s three seasons as manager, hired merely as a publicity stunt to sell tickets in an attempt to cover up an on-field product that masqueraded as a major-league team with minor-league talent.

He was criticized immensely during his tenure, which was highlighted—or more suitably, low lighted--by the 2003 Tigers nearly setting a new record for futility with 119 losses. Trammell always operated with the utmost class, never excusing poor play with an obvious lack of talent, not to mention the barren farm system. People didn’t like his Joey Harrington-esque approach to losing. Still, Trammell weathered the storm, although he didn’t escape with his job in hand.

And hey, maybe Trammell wasn’t cut out to be a big-league manager. The organization certainly needed to move in another direction. But place any other manager in that dugout with those players, and their record would be very similar to the 186 wins and 300 losses Trammell had.

Even including his managerial career, Trammell’s number is long overdue to be retired. The career he had is good enough to garner debates on his Hall-of-Fame worthiness. Although that’s a topic for another day, his stats speak for themselves:

.285 career batting average, 185 home runs in an era where shortstops couldn’t hit for power to save themselves, six All-Star appearances and in 1984 he lost the AL MVP to Fred Lynn by a hair or two. That MVP award could be the one thing that’s keeping him out of Cooperstown the most, lacking a real signature award.

That coupled with a World Series championship and a string of ten consecutive winning seasons led by his Trammell’s stellar play, and I’m wondering what it takes in this town to get a jersey retired.

You can have a cup of coffee with the Pistons and get your jersey retired, but the Tigers have been reluctant to honor Trammell or his partner of 19 years, Whitaker.

With the kind of pride and success both enjoyed while wearing the old English “D,” the absence of any kind of honor so far or for the foreseeable future is baffling. Furthermore, the company in which both stand in is equally confusing.

Tiger greats Mickey Lolich and Sparky Anderson are also part of the “Neglected Tiger Greats” club.

So in steps Sheffield, right after being banished from the Bronx Zoo, and he’s immediately awarded #3 upon asking. A player who admittedly used steroids not knowingly, which seems like a whole bunch of malarkey in itself, and a player who is regarded as having an attitude problem.

That right there shows the kind of respect the Tigers have for what Trammell did for their franchise. None. It won’t matter years down the road if the Tigers retire the number. Frankly, they have shown Trammell all that needs to be shown.

He’s been retired for 10 years, and although the timing isn’t optimal to canonize him now after such a horrendous stretch managing, there would have been an appropriate time down the road.

Sheffield told the Detroit Free Press that he’s wearing it out of admiration for Trammell, which is all fine and dandy, but the admiration for Trammell should come from the organization, who in turn should retire the jersey.

But now, after the team has shown no immediate interest in preserving his number or legacy it seems as though it’s a slap in the face to Trammell and to the fans who want to see Trammell get the kind of respect he deserves.

Sheffield’s acquisition is a good move by the Tigers, but his acquisition of Trammell’s former number makes me question the organization’s motive in overlooking the past and catering to the present.

For every one of Sheffield’s home runs this season, you’ll see a #3 circling the bases ever so slowly in the kind of home run jog that’s become as much a lap of self-admiration than anything else these days.

And every single time it’s another reason the number should be emblazoned on the right-centerfield brick at Comerica Park, not Sheffield’s jersey.