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Phil Rogers

Baffling lack of HOF support for Trammell

Longtime Tigers shortstop put up numbers worthy of induction

Baffling lack of HOF support for Trammell

Let's say we could turn back the clock 30 years, to the mid-1980s. And then let's say we're building a baseball team from scratch.

You're picking a shortstop and you have to make this choice: Ozzie Smith or Alan Trammell? Who gives you the best chance to win?

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There's no question that the Wizard is the flashier guy. He's certainly the shortstop you want going into the hole to make a play.

But at the end of the 1987 season, Smith was a .253 career hitter over 1,475 games, with 13 home runs. Trammell had played 1,440 games and hit .288, with 118 homers. Both spent more time hitting second than anywhere else, but manager Sparky Anderson also hit Trammell third or in the cleanup spot in 562 games during his career.

By the numbers: HOF case for Trammell

Through the years, I've asked a lot of baseball people -- players and executives -- who they would have picked in his prime, Ozzie or Tram? I probably asked even more longtime writers and broadcasters. The answer almost invariably depended on whether the person I was asking had spent more time in the National League or American League.

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If you watched the Wizard regularly, he got under your skin -- in a good way. Just like if you watched the Tigers of the 1980s, you respected all the ways Trammell could impact a game.

Anderson once told me that Trammell won games for Detroit "with his bat, his glove, his arms, his legs and [pointing to his chest] his heart.'' Whitey Herzog and everyone else who managed Smith would tell you the same kind of things about him, of course, but that's not the point.

The Hall of Fame is a whole lot better because it includes the Wizard and three other contemporaries of Trammell's (Cal Ripken Jr., Robin Yount and Barry Larkin) among 24 shortstops who have been honored in Cooperstown, N.Y. But Trammell would make the place a little bit better, too.

One thing I'll never forget was how Trammell, then coaching first base for the Padres, traveled from Denver to Cooperstown for Anderson's induction in 2000. He left after a game on Saturday night and turned around to return immediately after shaking Anderson's hand the morning of the induction, missing the ceremony for an attempt to make it back to Denver for the Sunday afternoon game. What a classy way to pay your respects.

From 1980-90, Trammell posted a 59.3 WAR. In those same seasons, Smith produced a 55.5 WAR.

They both appeared on a Hall of Fame ballot for the first time in December 2001. Smith nailed down a spot among first-ballot Hall of Famers by getting 433 of 472 votes (91.7 percent). Trammell received 74 votes, only 15.7 percent. He's never made it to even 37 percent, and this is the 15th and final time he'll appear on the ballot. The results of the Baseball Writers' Association of America voting will be announced on MLB Network and simulcast on MLB.com live on Wednesday at 6 p.m. ET.

One big difference between Ozzie and Tram: While Smith did some of his best hitting toward the end of his career, injuries limited Trammell's production. That's the reason that Smith ended with a higher career WAR (76.5 to 70.4).

But I've never understood why Trammell is relegated to a level so far below Smith.

It's true that Smith came through in the postseason, with his ninth-inning homer off Tom Niedenfuer in Game 5 of the 1985 NL Championship Series one of the signature moments for a Cardinals team that won the pennant three times in six years. But Trammell pounded the Royals and Padres in the 1984 postseason, winning a World Series MVP for the "Bless You Boys" Tigers.

Trammell's two homers

Trammell's Hall of Fame case would have been helped had he not lost a close AL MVP Award race to the Blue Jays' George Bell in 1987 (when Trammell hit .343 with 28 homers and generated an 8.2 WAR, compared to the one-dimensional Bell's 5.0 WAR). This was one of three times that Trammell finished in the top 10 in the AL MVP Award voting, two more times than Smith.

One thing Trammell isn't is a promoter. The only thing he's ever really said about the Hall of Fame is that he always felt it would be neat to go in alongside his double-play partner, Lou Whitaker.

But Whitaker received only 15 of 515 votes in 2001, his only year on the ballot. It was a cold backhand from voters given how the left-handed-hitting second baseman was feared by the right-handers of his day. Whitaker's career WAR? How about 74.9? That's not quite Charlie Gehringer (80.6) but it's better than Craig Biggio (65.1).

There is a plus for Trammell in finally falling off the BBWAA ballot. He'll become eligible for the Expansion Era Committee's consideration after another waiting period of a year. That means that Trammell won't be up for discussion alongside Jack Morris next December, but if the screening committee loves a good story it should put him and Whitaker on the ballot in 2019.

If Trammell wound up being elected alongside Whitaker, he'd probably say it was worth the wait.

Phil Rogers is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.