Sweet Or Sour Lou Whitaker?

For nearly two decades, the defensive exploits of Lou Whitaker and Alan Trammell made sports highlights multiple nights a week. They went all out on every play and made damn near all of them. Trammell is in the Baseball Hall of Fame. Whitaker is now a nominee of the Modern Baseball Era committee.

Here are some numbers to chew on. Sixth all-time in defensive assists for a second baseman. Ten seasons in the top-10 for defensive range. For 10 years, was good for 15-20 home runs, more walks than strikeouts, and 60-80 RBI… this during a time when middle infielders were expected to hit .240 and drive in 30. In terms of wins above replacement, 78th all-time. Fourth all-time for double plays turned as a second baseman.

Good numbers, maybe even very good. But hall of fame numbers?

The old saying goes something like, “If you have to ask if he’s a hall-of-famer, that’s your answer.”

Granted. This one’s tough. This is one of those players who we remember as being better perhaps than his numbers would indicate, but maybe we don’t give him enough credit for the offensive firepower he did possess. And maybe he made playing second base look so damn easy, that we don’t give him enough credit for how good he was.

He was on just 15 of 515 Baseball Writers of America Association ballots back in 2001. But they were looking at a .276 average with 244 home runs in 19 years. In 2001 middle infielders were hitting 40 home runs and were built like fire trucks. Back then they made the old guys like Sweet Lou look pedestrian, insufficient, weak. But now we know why: vials and needles and pills were fueling the game’s middle infielders.

But before that, there was a really good second baseman who won three Gold Gloves, flew through the air and knocked the crap out of the ball for the Tigers. He was a gamer… every day… every way… for 19 years. In his time, there wasn’t a baseball fan who didn’t know who Lou Whitaker was. And that says a lot.

Maybe he’s in the Harold Baines realm, but Baines was pretty damn good. And if you compare the two, I would say Whitaker’s defensive numbers more than make up for his slight shortcomings offensively, and they aren’t far off of Trammell’s.

If I have a vote, I probably cast it for the man who flew through the air so many times and double up so many of the opposition before coming up to win the game for Detroit. Sweet Lou was one of the best of his generation. I think you vote him in for a hell of a career.

I sure as hell won’t knock anyone who does.

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