Trammell's stats were on par with Hall shortstops
Longtime Tigers star compares favorably to contemporaries Ozzie and Larkin
Alan Trammell is a candidate on the National Baseball Hall of Fame ballot for the 13th year. The Class of 2014 will be announced exclusively on MLB Network and simulcast on MLB.com live on Wednesday at 2 p.m. ET as part of a three-hour live show beginning at noon. On Thursday, MLB.com and MLB Network will air the news conferences featuring the electees live from New York at 11 a.m. ET.
DETROIT -- Alan Trammell is not a sabermetrics guru, but he knows when the math is overwhelming. That's why he has long since made his peace with the likelihood that he will not get voted into the Hall of Fame.
The fans who watched him anchor the Tigers' infield for two decades, who idolized him as kids, aren't so forgiving about it. They have numbers in their favor, too.
The angst started his first year on the ballot. While fellow shortstop Ozzie Smith became a first-ballot Hall of Famer, Trammell received just 15.7 percent of vote. Mention the Wizard of Oz around Detroit, and the memories are as much about the ballot as the backflips.
A decade later, the frustration renewed with Barry Larkin. When Larkin appeared on the ballot, it was a boon for Trammell's support, because the similarities were unavoidable. One look at Larkin's page on baseball-reference.com -- which lists Trammell as his most similar player -- reinforces it.
"Was Alan Trammell flashy?" former Tigers teammate and current D-backs manager Kirk Gibson asked aloud a year ago in an interview with MLB.com. "Probably not. Look at his numbers. Barry Larkin just made it in. He's a worthy Hall of Famer. Alan Trammell is right there with him. He played 20 years."
The numbers are eerily similar, from the traditional statistics to the advanced metrics. Their career Wins Above Replacement are nearly identical -- 70.3 for Trammell, 70.2 for Larkin, according to the baseball-reference.com formula.
Larkin's average was 10 points higher, and he hit 13 more home runs in 113 fewer games than Trammell, resulting in an .815 OPS that ranked 48 points higher. Larkin also stole 143 more bases, or an average of about seven more per season. What Trammell had on Larkin was defense, including a Defensive Wins Above Replacement total of 22 that nearly doubled Larkin's career total of 13.8.
"[Trammell] 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 once explained. "I can't think of anyone else I'd want the ball hit to with the game on the line."
In traditional stats, Larkin had the better peak, with a 33-homer, 36-steal season in 1996 that followed up his National League MVP award from a year earlier. However, that was one of just two seasons in which his WAR topped 7.0.
Trammell's best season came in 1987, when he had a .343 average, 28 homers, 105 RBIs and 21 steals. His 8.2 WAR that year was a full win better than Larkin's best season from '96. Trammell topped a 6.0 WAR in five of his 20 seasons, two more than Larkin.
For some, the difference might well come down to something as little as the hardware earned at the career peak. Larkin's 1995 season won him the NL MVP Award in a close vote over Colorado's Dante Bichette. Trammell's 1987 season, while better, went unrewarded when Blue Jays slugger George Bell won that year's AL MVP Award.
It's an oversight that bothers many in Michigan to this day. And to some, it's the difference in the Hall voting.
While Larkin grew enough support for induction on his third ballot, Trammell's vote percentages more than doubled, from 17.4 percent in Larkin's first year to 36.8 percent the year Larkin was inducted. It wasn't enough to start raising hopes for Trammell's induction, but it was a start.
Last year's ballot, in turn, dashed a lot of hopes. Instead of the momentum building further, Trammell actually lost 20 votes, dropping to 33.6 percent.
This year marks his 13th on the ballot. As long as a player is selected on five percent of ballots cast by members of the Baseball Writers Association of America, he has 15 years on the ballot to get to the 75 percent mark needed for induction. After that, the player's last hope is the long shot of making it onto the Hall of Fame expansion era ballot and earning 75 percent of the vote from a historical overview committee of current Hall of Famers, front office members and writers.
Assuming that happens in a few years, he'll have to live with it. Trammell has prepared himself such a fate for a while.