Didn’t we all want to play shortstop? Wasn’t that the position we lusted after when we met as kids at the ballfield? Pitching was OK. Catching was for fat kids. But a shortstop moved. Dive to the left. Dive to the right. Leap, catch, stab, grab, roll, twist, flip, fire. Mr. Defense. The attorney general of fielders. Few of us were born for that role. Alan Trammell was. “I always played shortstop,” he admits, “even as a kid. People say to me, you’re 29, you could play five more years then stick around five more as a designated hitter. But that’s not me. If I can’t play shortstop, I won’t play baseball. I’ll retire.”
Understood. Here is Prince Charles and the throne. Hemingway and a typewriter. A job of destiny. You can picture Trammell in Little League, high school, the minors, getting better and better, but always there, that magic spot between second and third, dirt stains on his knees, hair matted with sweat. Shortstop. Center of the action. Where we all wanted to be.
Perhaps that is why, in Trammell’s finest season yet for the Detroit Tigers, the people in this state have chosen him as their favorite, Michigan’s Best ’87. Is there anything more enviable than a man who plays shortstop for a living? Here are some Alan Trammell snapshots: crashing to earth, spearing the ball, firing to first. Or crouching at the plate, whacking the pitch, loping around the bases as it clunks in the bleachers. A tribute to this boyish-faced Californian is that you cannot decide which half of the inning you prefer to see him in, top or bottom. Surely his hard-smash grounder that won the next-to-last game of the season in the 12th inning — went between the legs of Manny Lee, the Toronto Blue Jays shortstop, with the bases loaded — was a memory we will not forget. But the night before he had raced up the middle, pounced on a ball and flipped backhanded to Lou Whitaker for a gorgeous double play — and 45,000 hearts went pit-a-pat.
“It really was some season,” says Trammell now, from his home near San Diego. Sure was. More than 200 hits. A championship on the last day of the season. He finished second in the MVP voting to George Bell, despite his excellent numbers (.343, 28 homers, 105 RBIs). But that could hardly be considered a setback.
Here is a guy who two years ago would choke when reporters approached him. “What do you want to talk to me for?” he would say. Elbow and shoulder problems had affected his game, and there were whispers he might never be the player he once was. His confidence was at low ebb. The Tigers faltered.
Things turned around. In a big way. It seems no accident that the last time Trammell had a season this good was the last time the Tigers did — 1984.
“He’s extremely important to this team,” Jack Morris, no slouch himself, would say all during the year. In fact, when you consider who really took over the leadership role vacated by Lance Parrish this season, the answer is Trammell — who also inherited his cleanup spot in the batting order. Sure, Darrell Evans was the elder statesman. And Kirk Gibson was the dynamite. But Trammell was the man doing it on the field. And that’s where most players take their cues. The Tigers left spring training uncertain about their muscles. By September, they were almost cocky.
Trammell had a lot to do with that.
Was there ever something you did as a player,” he is asked, “that made you say, ‘Wow. That was special’?”
“Not really one play. . . . ” he says. “I do remember in the early years of my career, Thurman Munson of the Yankees used to come after me trying to break up the double plays. He’d be running towards second and he’d yell, ‘Here I come, kid! Look out, kid! Watch out, kid!’ I think he did it because he liked me. He was testing me. That was special. I’m always gonna remember playing against him.”
“Did you get him out anyhow?”
“Oh yes,” he says.
Oh yes. No question there. Trammell gets them out. And lately he knocks them out. But it was more than hitting and more than fielding that carved his corner in Detroit’s heart. Call it the total package, the little kid look, the thinning hair that never seems combed (even when it’s combed), the relationship he has with the fans, honest, blue-collar, which led them to scream “M- V-P!” during every crucial at-bat of that final crucial series.
“I consider myself a regular guy,” says Trammell. “I don’t try to be too big for anybody. I just look at myself as a well- rounded athlete. Nothing exceptional.”
There was a moment during this season when Trammell passed out cigars in the Toronto clubhouse, a father for the third time. And there was a moment, when, soaked with champagne, he tried to do a TV interview after the Tigers had won the AL East. His voice was gone, a mere rasp from screaming. Earlier in the day, his wife had surprised him by flying in from California with their newborn daughter, Jade Lynn. I remember watching Trammell then, rubbing champagne from his eyes, croaking in the camera: “This is great! This is so great,” and thinking, at that moment, here was a guy who really had it all.
Of course, none of us has it all. The Tigers were knocked out of the playoffs. Trammell finished second in that MVP voting. Already this winter, he has witnessed the departure of his close friend and teammate, Dan Petry, who was traded to the California Angels after nine years with Detroit. “We were drafted together, we played in the minors together,” says Trammell. “He’s the first part of our ‘nucleus’ to get traded. I’m gonna be 30 next year. You wonder how long we’ll all stay together. Sooner or later. . . .”
That day will come. No hurry, thank you. Right now, Detroit is quite happy with old No. 3. There is nothing glamorous about him (in fact, I always picture Trammell in his Lakers T-shirt, thigh-length underwear, rolling on the clubhouse floor, doing stretching exercises. Not quite Prince Rainier).
Ah, but so what? A favorite is as a favorite does. And this year, the favorite did the following: came back from doubt, recycled himself, took over the reins and helped an unlikely team to an unlikely place. He had a hungry bat, and a magic glove, and each time he trotted out, there was a familiar feeling of confidence. Why not? Alan Trammell is doing that which we all wanted to do back when our knees were skinned and our shoelaces came untied for no particular reason. He is the shortstop.
And damn if he isn’t the best. The voting The final results in the Free Press readers’ balloting for Michigan’s Best ’87
(based on 2,031 votes): FIGURE VOTE PCT
1. Alan Trammell 327 16.1
2. Jacques Demers 208 10.2
3. Jim Abbott 200 9.8
4. Steve Yzerman 193 9.5
5. Meredith McGrath 126 6.2
6. Mike Yellen 109 5.4
7. Lorenzo White 97 4.8
8. George Perles 96 4.7
8. Jim Harkema 96 4.7 10. Isiah Thomas 73 3.6 11. Jamie Morris 72 3.5 12. Sparky Anderson 56 2.8 13. Thomas Hearns 44 2.2 14. Matt Nokes 41 2.0 15. Don Canham 31 1.5 15. Dave DenBraber 31 1.5 17. Herb Grenke 27 1.3 18. Chuck Daly 26 1.3 19. Kevin Miller 25 1.2 20. Dena Head 23 1.1 20. Bill Lajoie 23 1.1 22. Doyle Alexander 20 1.0 22. C. Cunningham 20 1.0 22. Adrian Dantley 20 1.0 25. Charlie Coles 18 0.9 26. Bob Kaiser 17 0.8 27. Mark Macon 9 0.4 28. Chuck Sylvester 3 0.1