TRAM FINDS HIS GAME IN A NEVER-ENDING JAM

Alan Trammell swallows a mouthful of water from the fountain, wipes his chin, then plops down on the dugout bench.

“Listen, I don’t want to talk about me, OK? I’ll talk about the team, how

we’re doing. Anything. But nothing about me.”

He pauses.

“I just don’t want any features on me. I don’t. I’ll talk about other things, but not about me.”

Another pause.

“OK?” he says, looking over. “All right? Nothing about me, OK?”

Slumps are death.

Last year, Trammell was prince of the city, a World Series MVP with a stinger bat and a glove that played Mozart at shortstop.

Sparky Anderson touted him as “Hall of Fame talent.” And no doubt he still has it in him.

But he’s not playing that way this year. His batting average has wilted to .261 — from .314 last season — and his fielding lacks some of its usual sparkle.

Little has been made of it. Heroes keep their glow longer than their statistics. But on the long list of turnarounds, Alan Trammell is the name the Tigers are waiting for most anxiously.

And waiting is all they can do.

For if there is anything wrong, Trammell isn’t saying what it is. An answer we may not want

Of course, for Tigers fans, wondering whether anything is wrong with Alan Trammell is like wondering whether someone is lurking around your house when you go to sleep. You almost don’t want to know the answer.

Trammell is a linchpin in the Tigers machine. A clutch hitter, a spark plug, half the punch of the best shortstop- second base combo in the game.

Few people want to imagine that disappearing.

Last week Sparky Anderson was asked whether everything was all right with his star shortstop.

“He says he’s all right,” was all Sparky could answer. Then he shrugged.

Who knows otherwise?

Executives have their accountants, actors have their makeup men. But when things go south on a ball player, he can only climb into his emotional attic and case the joint for clues.

“I don’t have any,” Trammell admits, staring into his glove. “I don’t. There have been times when I’ve said, ‘My god, what’s going on? . . .”

Five minutes have passed, and he is talking about himself, even after he said he would not. It’s understandable. He doesn’t want a spotlight. But holding back is unnatural too.

“These days,” he says, “when I go for that first at-bat, I have a good game plan. But then I don’t get a hit and I go, ‘Uh-oh, here we go again.’

“Then the second at-bat I don’t get a hit, and I say, ‘God, I gotta mix one in here.’ Then the third at-bat is bad, then the fourth. . . . That’s what it’s like when you’re struggling.”

He stares out on the field. “I feel responsible for some of what’s happened to us this year, sure. Lou (Whitaker) has gotten on base a lot, and I usually bat behind him. If I were hitting . . .

“Or just if we were winning. Then I could live with not having a great season this time. . . .”

He stops. “With not having a good season . . . ” He can’t pinpoint the problem

Think of a slump as quicksand, most deadly to those who thrash around inside it, and you begin to sense the precarious spot that Trammell is in.

He knows it’s a now-or-never situation for the 1985 team. He knows he’s badly needed. He also knows that pressing to do better is exactly what sinks you deeper.

Besides, what is it that’s actually wrong?

True, he’s had injuries — problems with his shoulder, his forearm, a knee that required off- season surgery. Holding back a bit, even subconsciously, would be understandable.

“Uh-uh. No. No way,” Trammell says adamantly. “I worked all that out in spring training.”

All right. He is the Tigers’ player representative, a distraction in this strike-clouded year.

“No,” he says, “that didn’t have anything to do with it. I’d take the job again.”

Is it merely an “off” season? Well, what is an “off” season? An accident? No more than a championship is a lucky break. There are reasons for everything. Even those that are secrets.

Trammell slaps at his glove. “Look, I’m not closing shop on this year. No way. I’ve got too much pride for that.”

He holds the thought a second. “We all do.” Slumps are death.

Who knows where they come from?

“He says he’s all right” said Sparky, who has to accept it. For now, the rest of us can do no less.

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