Maybe time is becoming more merciful for Alan Trammell's legacy, but it isn't proving any kinder for his chances at election.
After many years of mixed results on his Hall ballot, Trammell finally has picked up some momentum over the last couple years, having been selected on 24.3 percent of ballots last winter. It was the highest total of his career, and a seven-percent gain in the last two years, but it's still less than a third of the votes needed for induction.
He'll need a lot more before Cooperstown becomes a legitimate consideration, and with just four more years on the ballot after this turn, he's running out of time to get there. But there's at least hope that the change in momentum over the past few years marks a larger change in consideration for where Trammell ranks among the game's great shortstops.
He might not ever be called a Hall of Famer, but his legacy is building as the best shortstop not in Cooperstown.
A candidate must receive 75 percent of the vote from Baseball Writers' Association of America members to gain election to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Second baseman Roberto Alomar (90 percent) and pitcher Bert Blyleven (79.7 percent) earned their ticket to Cooperstown on the 2011 ballot. Former Reds shortstop Barry Larkin (62.1 percent) and starting pitcher Jack Morris (53.5 percent) are the top returning vote-getters from last year's ballot. Results of the 2012 election will be announced on Monday, Jan. 9.
Trammell won a World Series MVP award on the 1984 Tigers, but the only member of that club in the Hall of Fame is the manager, the late Sparky Anderson. Trammell and Morris are the only two players from that team still on the ballot, but Morris has by far the better chance of getting in -- at least on the writers' ballot.
"Maybe people are looking at us as not exactly superstars, but a team," Trammell said a few years ago. "That's the way we were taught and that's the way we played every day."
The Tigers certainly were hoping for greatness from him when they drafted the scrawny athlete out of high school in the second round of the 1976 First-Year Player Draft. A year later, he was in the Major Leagues, a September callup at age 19, sent to Detroit to change up the middle infield. Fittingly, he made his big league debut on the same exact date as his second baseman, Lou Whitaker, and they recorded their first Major League hits that day.
Together, they'd be teammates for 1,918 games, more than any other duo in American League history. They led the AL in double plays as rookies in 1978, merely the start of their accomplishments. Whitaker won the American League Rookie of the Year that season, with Trammell finishing fourth largely based on his defense.
Trammell steadily progressed as a hitter until he earned the first of six All-Star selections on his way to a .300 average and 65 RBIs in 1980. His offensive production dropped in the strike-shortened '81 season then plummeted in '82, when he entered the All-Star Break barely hitting above the Mendoza Line. He hit better than .300 in the second half, and he later pointed to that as when he really emerged as a hitter.
Trammell earned AL Comeback Player of the Year honors in 1983, but it was the Tigers' championship run in '84 that cemented his place in history. After returning to the All-Star Game for the first time in four years, he was at his best in October. He tripled, homered and drove in three runs in the AL Championship Series, then tied a five-game World Series record with nine hits. His two home runs accounted for all four runs scored in a 4-2 win over the Padres in Game 4, moving Detroit to within a win of its first world title since '68.
Not surprisingly, Trammell was named World Series MVP that year. More shocking was the season he had in 1987. Shifting from second to cleanup in the order with Lance Parrish gone, Trammell obliterated all of his offensive standards, batting .343 with 205 hits, 28 homers, 105 RBIs and 109 runs scored. Only a 47-homer season from Toronto's George Bell kept Trammell from the AL MVP, the first controversial snub of his career.
That earned Trammell the first of his three Silver Slugger Awards in a four-year span. Only two Hall of Fame shortstops, Ernie Banks and Robin Yount, hit more home runs than Trammell's 185 career long balls.
But his bat never overshadowed his glove. He won four Gold Gloves in a five-year stretch from 1980-84 before Tony Fernandez and later Omar Vizquel put a stranglehold on the award. When Trammell retired in '96, his .977 fielding percentage was higher than any Hall of Fame shortstop at the time.
"He didn't have the flash that Ozzie Smith did, but he was an excellent defensive player, day in and day out, over the course of his career," the late Hall of Fame broadcaster Ernie Harwell said. "I can't think of anyone else I'd want the ball hit to with the game on the line."
That explains in part why it was a bitter pill for many Tigers fans when Trammell fell far short of Hall of Fame induction in 2001, the year Smith made it in. Trammell's candidacy has struggled to find traction ever since.
His place in history will probably be as part of a tandem rather than on his own merits. But he's fine with that.
"I actually enjoyed that it was both of us," Trammell said, "that it was Lou and Tram. That really hasn't happened in the history of baseball. We were a long-running double-play combination and we went about the way of business that was our way. Maybe we didn't get recognized, but that's not what we played for. We were taught the game the right way. We were very happy. But to be known as that kind of duo is very special. Nobody can take that away."