Pitchers and shortstops. The cornerstones of a baseball defense. One strikes ‘em out. The other throws ‘em out.
In Little League, the pitcher and shortstop can be the same kid (usually the best player on the team). But come the majors, pitchers and shortstops couldn’t be farther apart. The pitcher, as starter, is a protected diva, working once or twice a week, resting in between. The shortstop is a daily mule.
So it might surprise you that back in the 1980s, Alan Trammell, shortstop, and Jack Morris, pitcher, could be seen side by side in the Tiger Stadium infield, chasing grounders during batting practice.
Even on days that Morris was pitching.
“Jack used to take ground balls with me all the time,” Trammell, 60, recalled during an interview last week. “He’d go out and wear his spikes and get himself going. That was a routine he had.”
“It was a way for me to get loose,” Morris, 63, confirmed. “Kind of get the blood flowing.”
Out there in the dirt, leaning down, scooping baseballs with their gloves, they might have seemed very much alike. They were not. As someone who covered these two men for years, I can assure you their personalities were as similar as oil and water.
Trammell was a gym rat in a Lakers T-shirt and blue jeans, his hair forever matted by sweat. Morris was a show pony, with leather pants and fur coats and a barroom brawler’s gleam in his eye, as if itching for a fight because he knew he could win it.
Trammell was a Southern California kid, an American Legion product, all sunshine and sports. Morris was a cold-weather athlete, raised in St. Paul, Minnesota, and a college player at BYU before turning pro.
Trammell negotiated his own contracts, once handshaking a deal during a spring training practice. Morris, who was the highest-paid pitcher in the game several times, made money an issue and, as a free agent, tried single-handedly to take on baseball owners’ collusion.
Trammell played his whole career in Detroit. Morris wore four different uniforms. Trammell shied from the media like an owl ducking inside a tree. Morris saw the media the way a lion sees a panther: attack or be attacked.
Jack was three years older and a few inches taller. But despite their differences, they were united by a competitive streak and a true love of the game. It brought them together then, from infield grounders to World Series games. And it brings them together now, this weekend, in Cooperstown.
They are finally, after 15 grueling years of falling short on the ballot, going into baseball’s Hall of Fame, thanks to its Modern Era committee.
The pitcher and the shortstop.
Here is one man’s remembrances of each.
Time changes everything
Jack Morris could be scary. When you approached him in a locker room, you were met by the same angry eyes that glared down opposing hitters. “I never went near him when it was his day to pitch,” Sparky Anderson once told the media. And Sparky was his boss!
Some of this was reputation preceding him; Jack, in truth, was as much bark as bite. But he was smart and quick and he did not suffer fools easily.
We got along. Most of the time. But you had to stand your ground. Jack often had a snarky grin beneath that droopy Marlboro Man mustache, and his responses were as cynical as they were comical. If you asked an obvious questions, he’d snap, “What do you think?”
I once wrote about seeing him again in Toronto, a couple of years after he left the Tigers in a semi-bitter free agency.
“I had enough of people blaming me for everything.”
Sneer. “What do you think?”
Like I said…
And yet, deep down, Morris always struck me as a principled, if stubborn, guy. You may not have agreed with those principles, but you knew he stood by them. Once, towards the end of his baseball career, Jack bought a farm in Montana. Not a small farm. A huge, 10,000-acre farm. Rolling wheat. Combines. Massive storage bins. The works. He’d never farmed before (Jack was raised in a city neighborhood). But farming had been a lifelong dream, and he was determined to make it work. He sold the place years later, admitting it was too much. Like many things in Morris’ life, the look came after the leap. But — and I believe he was proud of this — the leap was always his.
And man, could he pitch. Morris didn’t just stand on the mound, he ruled it. He banged in his stake and declared it his own. Morris was the last pitcher I recall to get truly angry if he didn’t go a full nine innings. He famously had two complete-game victories in the 1984 World Series (try finding a pitcher today to do that). And he once told Sports Illustrated he chased Sparky back into the dugout when the manager was coming to relieve him during a regular season game. “Get the hell out of here,” Morris said, “because what you’ve got warming up is no better than what I’ve got right now.”
Morris’ most famous long performance, of course, was not with the Tigers but with the Twins in the 1991 World Series, Game 7, against Atlanta, when, at age 36, he went a full nine innings without giving up a run. And then, with the score still 0-0, he came out and pitched the 10th. His Minnesota manager, Tom Kelly, had also thought about taking him out.
“I can pitch,” Morris reportedly said, the way The Godfather would say, “Lemme take care of it.”
Kelly left him in.
Jack retired the side on eight pitches. Half an inning and one bases-loaded hit later, the Twins were World Champions. Morris won the game, the Series MVP, and his second of four World Series rings with three different teams.
You could almost put him in the Hall of Fame just for that.
It always seemed ironic that after 17 years of intimidating journalists, Morris would wind up on the media side of things, working as a broadcaster for the Twins, Tigers, Blue Jays and MLB. Ironically, it has made him look back on his often scowling presence during his playing days.
“If I have a regret in baseball, that’s it,” he said. “I had no reason to make (journalists) feel uncomfortable. I mean, obviously I’m gonna have disagreements with certain things you write or say, but I never thought I was unapproachable. I just got into a kind of a rhythm of, ‘Well, if they don’t wanna bother me, that’s fine’…
“I think it was through the (media) that the public never really got to know me. And that was my own fault. It’s not anybody else’s. You know — the fact that I was short with them at times. And I was deflecting a lot of things — not just for myself, but for some of my teammates. I had a thick skin. I could still go out to the mound and compete. I used to laugh at myself — I’d say, ‘You know, I’d love these (journalists) a lot more if they could come out and give me a game-winning hit, but they’re not gonna go do that for me. So I really don’t need ‘em that much.
“Well, come to find out — years go by — and I’m actually part of the media, and I see there was no harm. There was no ill intent on their part. They were just trying to get a story. They were trying to do their job. And I wish I would’ve looked at it that way.”
Time changes everything.
A Tiger through and through
Alan Trammell? Well, Alan hated stories about himself too. Especially features. He ran from any interview that didn’t center on baseball.
“Don’t ask me anything personal, OK?” he’d say. “No feature pieces. Just nothing personal. As long as there’s nothing personal, I’m OK with it.”
The funny thing is, he had nothing to hide. Trammell’s life, at least from the outside, seemed as controversial as an episode of “Flipper.” He grew up in sun-kissed Garden Grove, not far from Disneyland, was a high school baseball and basketball star, signed with the Tigers (the same scout who found him found Morris) and went from a prep All-Star Game one day to a minor league club two days later. One year after that, he was up with the Tigers, making his debut in September 1977. He was the youngest player in the major leagues at the time, only 19½.
Five months later, he married his high school girlfriend. They had three kids.
Controversy? Never. Here was a man who knew where he belonged — in baseball, at shortstop, with the Tigers, a flip away from a second baseman named Lou Whitaker, who had come to the majors along with Trammell. They became one of the great 6-4 combos in baseball history, and played together more than any American League pair of teammates, 1,918 games. Trammell made no secret of his fantasy of entering the Hall of Fame with Whitaker.
It didn’t happen. Whitaker, for whatever reason, remains a long way out. Instead, Trammell enters with Morris. The two are inexorably tied together not only as friends and teammates and fellow competitors, but on the calendar thanks to Game 4 of the 1984 World Series. Trammell hit two home runs that day, and Morris got his second career World Series win. It helped cement the Series MVP for Trammell, which he won in defeating his hometown team, the San Diego Padres.
For a California kid, it was as good as it could get.
The most stunned I ever saw Trammell was when his wife gave birth to their daughter, Jade Lynn, in 1987. It was in the Toronto clubhouse and Trammell, having just got the call, wandered around in a Lakers T-shirt and his underwear, looking deliriously happy, accepting congratulations.
A few months later, he finished just shy of the AL MVP award, losing a close race to Toronto’s George Bell in what many argued was a voting injustice, as Trammell had ended the season strong (.343 average, 28 HRs, 105 RBIs) while Bell, in the final weeks, swung a tepid bat, especially against the Tigers.
But Trammell shook it off. “I feel honored to be considered the second best player in the American League,” he told me. “I think that George did a better job of carrying his club.”
That was Trammell. If Morris felt slighted, he let you know. Loudly. Trammell, it seemed, didn’t know how to complain. At least I never saw it. This is the same guy who, late in his career, battling constant injuries, went to his GM after an offseason workout at Tiger Stadium and asked, “Do you want me back?” When told yes, he negotiated a contract extension by himself for less money than he’d been earning. When asked why, he said, “I could have had an agent come in and tell the Tigers how great I am, how much I’ve done for the club over the years and all that B.S. But the truth is, I’ve been hurt lately…”
That was Tram. Unfailingly honest, needlessly modest, unapologetically dedicated to playing as long as he could. He was a Tiger through and through, and after retiring he came back to manage. And in his first year on the job, 2003, he suffered the infamy of skippering the Tigers’ worst season ever, and the second worst season in the history of baseball, 119 losses.
Yet it is the mark of how beloved he is in this town that hardly anyone blamed him — then or now. And they always blame the manager!
A dream finally realized
Morris and Trammell shared a clubhouse, a team uniform, several champagne dousings, and a particular love for the 1984 Detroit roster. They also shared an excruciating wait to get to this moment. For 15 years (the maximum allowed at the time — it’s less now) they were on the writers’ Hall of Fame ballot, but never earned enough votes to get in.
Fifteen years of being evaluated? And every year ending with a “Sorry, but no.”
“The first couple years you kind of question everything,” Morris told me. “Both Tram and I didn’t get a lot of votes early in our balloting process. We both probably went through a little bit of ‘I wonder why?’ you know? What’s going on? What didn’t we do right?…
“But then you come to a realization that it’s out of your control. Everything is out of your control. And the only frustration I had — and I’m not gonna name names — but there were Detroit sports writers — they’d call me up and say, ‘I voted for you last year, but I didn’t vote for you this year.’ And I said, ‘Did I lose 20? What happened?’ It was almost like they were just trying to aggravate me.
“And that’s when I really realized — let it go. Just let it go. Because there’s nothing you can bring back. You can’t go out and pitch anymore. You’re not gonna win 300 by pitching five more years. So let it go. And for me, personally, I came to peace with it. I was OK because I finally accepted that what I did on the baseball field was pretty darn good and I had a lot to be proud of and a lot to be grateful for. And that gave me a lot of peace.”
Trammell, true to form, expressed less frustration, at least when I asked him.
“It really wasn’t (too upsetting) because Jack and I — as he mentioned — we weren’t even close. But he was a lot higher up as far as percentage. My percentage was so low that basically I wasn’t even keeping track, to be honest with you. I just felt Jack should have been in a long, long time ago. I just felt like as far as a dominant pitcher in the ’80s, Jack Morris was that in the American League…
“I knew I could play. There’s no question about that. But I just didn’t feel like my numbers and everything quite stacked up with the rest of the guys. I could do a lot of things well but maybe not one thing great. And I was OK with that. But I’m not complaining, believe me. To go in with my teammate is awesome.”
Awesome is one word. Well-deserved is another. This is not a case of hometown bias. Virtually anyone who lived through those years knows Morris was a dominant pitcher of his time, no matter what his career ERA or other Sabermetrics numbers drag at the wind in his sails. He was a winner. He made teams better. He was part of four championship teams. And he was the last of his kind — a nine-inning pitcher who could deliver the goods from beginning to end.
Trammell was ranked higher than many players already in the Hall. His 20 years, his championship ring, his Series MVP, his six All-Star selections, his defensive record, with Whitaker, of the most double plays turned by any combo in history, all adds up to a Hall of Fame dossier.
They are not the same guy. But they will share the same moment — just as they share the same past, a glorious stretch of summers in Detroit.
“I think I can speak for Tram,” Morris said. “We’re so excited. So happy. And we’re happy for Detroit.”
Detroit is happy back. The pitcher. The shortstop. A new pair of aces added to the Cooperstown deck. It took a long time. Maybe too long. But a famous writer once asked, “What happens to a dream deferred?” If finally realized, it can feel more deserved. This one does.
Contact Mitch Albom: firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out the latest updates with his charities, books and events at MitchAlbom.com. Download “The Sports Reporters” podcast each Monday and Friday on-demand through Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify and more. Follow him on Twitter @mitchalbom.