Here’s one big reason the Tigers made a smart move in hiring Alan Trammell: We like him. All of us media types, print, TV, radio. And if we like him, he’ll get the benefit of the doubt, and the team will get better press, and the hammer might come down on this hapless franchise in August instead of April. Hey. When you’re flailing as badly as the Tigers, that’s smart business.
You could see it Wednesday evening, at Trammell’s inaugural news conference. Not only was it more like a college reunion — “Hi, Frank.” “Good to see you, Jerry.” “How are you, Pat?” he said to his inquisitors — but a dozen questions went by and nobody asked Trammell about his total lack of managerial experience. The man never managed anywhere. At any level. And not a single question.
Finally, Alan, being the nice guy that he is, brought it up himself.
“I’m sure a lot of you are wondering about my not being a manager before,” he said, “and that’s understandable.”
Understandable, but unspoken. And that speaks volumes.
We like him. Everyone likes him. He’s going to wear his old number, for pete’s sake! Was this a PR hire? Of course. President and general manager Dave Dombrowski admitted Wednesday that he didn’t even formally interview Ken Macha, the Oakland Athletics bench coach who may be the hottest ticket among perspective new managers these days. Macha has been a successful skipper in the minors, and has years of major league credentials under his belt. But . .
“He didn’t have certain qualities that Alan offered,” Dombrowski said. “Alan’s a Tiger.”
Tram’s glory days
Now, I’ll admit it right here. I adore Trammell — as a player. I can say that, because there’s no danger of me covering him in that capacity again. As a player, Trammell was the rangy, high school shortstop who never grew up, never lost his enthusiasm, never got tired of slapping his glove in anticipation of a grounder, and never learned to care about how he looked or how much he earned. He just wanted to play. A sports geek of the deepest persuasion, he’s the guy who organizes the NCAA pool, or asks whether anyone has the late scores in their newspaper.
If this were about Trammell’s enthusiasm, I’d be picking the Tigers for the World Series. It isn’t, of course. This is about players, great players, and Detroit has none and isn’t likely to get any for a while. I felt badly having to ask Trammell about his barren roster — see, there I go again, liking the guy — and his answer was, “Sure, I’d like to get a great player, but I don’t know if it’s gonna be possible.”
It won’t be, not unless some new winds start blowing open Mike Ilitch’s checkbook. It was more than ironic that Wednesday’s news conference was moved to Joe Louis Arena, after the power went out at Comerica Park. (Get used to it, Alan. It’ll happen with your lineup.)
Instead the gathering was held in the Olympia Room, amid pictures of Ilitch’s other sports team, the Red Wings, hoisting the Stanley Cup. You looked at those faces, Steve Yzerman, Brendan Shanahan, Nicklas Lidstrom, and you realize they have more than talent in common: They are also all expensive. You don’t get them if you don’t pay.
The Tigers won’t pay. Not now. Maybe when the Wings’ time passes, maybe when the economy improves. But not now.
In the meantime, Trammell’s charm will serve as currency.
Tram’s working days
“We have to make strides as a professional organization,” said Trammell, who had been working as a first-base coach in San Diego. “It’s not a pretty situation here.”
He said that several times, and what you infer is that if nothing else, Trammell will get his tied-for-worst-record-in-baseball men to act as if they care, play as if they care, and curb their bickering and alleged partying. Trammell can do that. The squarest kid in school just got made the boss.
Ilitch loves his “passion and leadership” and said Tram reminded him of Jacques Demers. Of course, we can actually understand Trammell.
In fact, we can understand his hiring on many levels. He makes Detroiters feel good — including ticket buyers — the media now have someone familiar in the clubhouse, and the upside is he was a great player; he learned to do that, maybe he can learn to be a great manager. He knows the game. He’s 44.
But he has never managed before. He doesn’t know the team. And he has little to work with. What the Tigers just hired is a gentleman, a student, a believer, and a shield. A good strong shield.
“There’s gonna be some bumps,” Trammell said. “But I’m gonna take the heat. I’m gonna stand tall. I know there’s somebody out there that doesn’t like me.”
Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Catch “The Mitch Albom Show” 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760). Also catch “Monday Sports Albom” 7-8 p.m. Mondays on WJR.