LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Alan Trammell and Jack Morris, who were drafted and made their big league debuts together with the Detroit Tigers, met up again Monday — this time as Hall of Famers.
“It’s a been awhile,” Morris said, his voice cracking frequently during a news conference at the baseball winter meetings. “It’s been a tremendous learning experience, something I don’t regret today. I’m especially proud to go in with my friend, somebody who helped define what I was. It doesn’t get any better for me.”
“I feel a little bit out of place,” Trammell said. “Hall of Fame — that has a good ring to it. But when I hear ‘Alan Trammell, Hall of Fame’, that hasn’t resonated yet.”
Trammell and Morris were drafted by the Tigers in 1976. They played together until 1990, when Morris left as a free agent. Both remained on the BBWAA ballot for the maximum 15 years before their eligibility ended without election. Trammell reached as high as 40.9 percent in the balloting, while Morris hit 67.7 percent in 2013 — less than 8 percent shy of the 75 percent threshold needed for election. The wait was arduous.
The 16-member Modern Baseball Era Committee, which includes Hall of Fame players, managers and executives, as well as media members, put Morris in with 14 votes. Trammell had 13. Morris said he harbors no ill will toward the writers despite coming so close during that process.
“The process didn’t work for us for a lot of reasons,” Morris said. “I want all the writers to know, I’m not mad at any of you. I appreciate and understand how difficult it had to be.”
During the lead-up to the balloting, most metrics-charged analysis of the balloting favored Trammell’s candidacy, along with that of catcher Ted Simmons, who fell one vote short. He said that in some ways, being selected by a panel of peers is even more meaningful than it would have been had he been picked by the writers.
“I believe it’s even better,” Trammell said. “For my peers to recognize [my career], that’s very much appreciated.” Trammell hit .285 and collected 2,365 hits during his 20-year career, and won four Gold Gloves at shortstop, all with the Tigers. He teamed with second baseman Lou Whitaker for nearly all of those years, making the duo the longest-running double-play combo in baseball history. Trammell hopes that Whitaker will someday join him in Cooperstown.
“The dream didn’t happen that we would go in together,” Trammell said. “This year, I’m going in with my other buddy, Jack. And I’m grateful and honored. But I’m hoping that someday there is some more talk and that [Whitaker’s enshrinement] does happen.”
As for Morris, his Hall case has always been a flashpoint for modern analysts, using tools that, as Morris noted, didn’t exist when he played. Morris was long favored by old-school benchmarks such as wins (254) and complete games (175) that have fallen out of favor in modern systems of evaluation. It’s a debate that Morris has remained aware of.
“I had to grow and learn that maybe there were reasons why I shouldn’t be in,” Morris said. “I didn’t grow up learning the analytics that are in the game today. None of it was part of it. I always found it puzzling to wonder why I’m being judged on a criteria that didn’t even exist when we played.”
Morris was already in Orlando when he received the call Sunday that he’d finally made the Hall. Because the announcement was going to be broadcast nationally, he was asked to keep the information to himself for another half hour after he got the news. He lasted about 10 minutes.
“I sat there for 10 minutes and said, ‘I’ve waited for 18 years. I’m going call my wife,'” Morris said, his voice wavering once again. “Calling my family was the most emotional part.”
Trammell was en route to Orlando from San Diego and was departing his flight when he received the call. Like Morris, he was asked to keep the news under his hat at first, so he avoided his traveling companions, who included big league managers Bruce Bochy, Bud Black, Rich Renteria and Brad Ausmus, as well as former Padre Trevor Hoffman. Finally, as he approached the baggage claim area, time was up and he was able to share the excitement.
“Right at 6:15, I walk up and they are all waiting for me,” Trammell said. “I gave them a thumbs-up, and we took a little team picture then.”
It took 41 years after being drafted and 15 years of disappointment in the writers’ balloting to bring Trammell and Morris together again. The wait was worth it. As for all the debates regarding Hall merit over the years …
“Now that I’m in,” Morris joked, ” I don’t have to worry about it anymore.”