Today should be a sellout. Tiger Stadium should be rocking with noise and fans should wave painted bedsheets that read “TRAM AND LOU FOREVER.” There should be network TV announcers hyping the streak, telling viewers, “What you see this afternoon may never be seen again, two players who started their careers on the same day and played beside each other ever since, 19 seasons, one team, longer than any shortstop and second baseman combo in American League history. . . .”
Scalpers. There should be a scalpers. And commemorative programs. And a plaque presented by the American League president. There should be an enormous fuss, like the fuss they had for Cal Ripken a couple of weeks ago. Lights. Cameras. Media.
Instead, there will be empty seats, and a cool September wind will blow hot
dog wrappers across vacant steps. That’s the thing about history. It doesn’t always have the right setting. But it happens just the same.
Today, Alan Trammell, a shortstop raised in southern California, and Lou Whitaker, a second baseman raised near Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains, will trot out for their 1,917th game together, which in all likelihood will be their last in Tiger Stadium. The season is a washout. The standings are depressing. But Trammell and Whitaker, who are both ready to retire, will prepare as they always have, scooping grounders and humming the ball across the diamond, the only thing between them being the only thing that’s ever been between them: second base.
“I am the only manager in history,” Sparky Anderson says proudly, “to have two guys that good their whole careers. It’ll never happen again. I had Joe Morgan and Dave Concepcion in Cincinnati, and Tram and Lou here. No one will ever be that lucky. Hell, I ain’t had to worry about shortstop and second base my entire career.”
Bookends. How they grew apart
They are not best buddies. This may surprise you. They never socialize. They can’t tell you the last time they ate a meal together. When they see each other in the clubhouse now they nod hello, the way you nod at a familiar face in an elevator.
When they were younger, they were closer. They met as minor leaguers in Florida. They went to sports bars together. Their first night in the majors, Sept. 9, 1977, they shared a hotel room, and were road roommates the next three years.
“I do remember he snored,” Trammell says, laughing. “I mean, he really snored.”
“He was a heavy metal guy,” Whitaker recalls. “We’d be riding in the car, and he’d have to have that Led Zeppelin stuff on. I wasn’t going that way.”
They smile at those memories, but that was then, and this is now. Both Trammell and Whitaker married young. Both started families. Whitaker got into religion. They drifted apart. Now they finish the games and say a pleasant
“see you tomorrow,” which means, see you at work.
“If you ask me, that’s why they’re as good as they are,” Anderson says.
“You get too close, you can’t stand each other after a while. That’s ruined some players. Lou and Tram did it right. Play together, then leave each other alone.”
But, oh, how they played together. On the field, they move as one, especially on double plays — “I know where Lou is with my eyes closed,” Trammell says. They are blessed with different talents. Trammell was always the perfectly drilled shortstop, textbook stuff, scooping with two hands, throwing straight over the shoulder to first base.
Whitaker was an athletic marvel. “I watch him go deep behind second base, get a ball and throw it while he’s moving backwards — and he throws it as hard as if he were standing still,” Anderson says. “I’ve seen him do 20 or 25 things in my time that I still can’t believe he did.” Perfect ending for perfect pair
Fame? They never got their due. They never had the brashness that makes you hot stuff in America. Trammell, until recently, was shy with the media, and Whitaker often acts aloof, as if he couldn’t care less. Once, early in their careers, someone called them “The Gold Dust Twins.” It didn’t stick. They quickly went back to Tram and Lou. Lunch bucket nicknames.
Because of this, people often forget that Trammell was a World Series MVP and six-time All-Star. And Whitaker seems headed for Cooperstown; he and Hall of Famer Joe Morgan are the only second basemen in history to exceed 2,000 games, 2,000 hits and 200 home runs.
But mostly, they came to work. Night after night. Game after game. From the summer of ’77 to the summer of ’95. From Carter to Clinton. And today they give one more show in the only major league park they’ve ever called home.
After the last game of the 1987 season, when the Tigers won the AL East, Whitaker pulled up second base and gave it to Trammell, who’d had a terrific year. On that base, Whitaker wrote: “Alan Trammell, MVP, 1987, from Lou Whitaker.”
Trammell says that’s the nicest thing Lou’s ever done for him. And he’s often thought of returning the favor. Maybe today?
“The perfect thing would be to end our last game here with a double play. And then maybe I’d grab the bag and give it to him.”
What if he grabbed it first?
“Then he’d give it to me. Doesn’t matter.”
Tram to Lou. Lou to Tram. Doesn’t matter.
There ought to be a sellout. There ought to be noise and fireworks. Instead, Tiger Stadium will be cold and largely empty, and we can only hope that those who attend will applaud the featured attraction, the bookends around second base, Tram and Lou, here so long, yet gone too soon.