by | Dec 4, 1992 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

Here’s a tale to make a sports agent weep, and what could be more fun than that? Alan Trammell signed a contract the other day. After he negotiated it.

Trammell was down at Tiger Stadium, working out, and one morning, after showering, he wandered up to general manager Jerry Walker’s office for a talk.

Now, a typical agent would never let him do that. Meet with the enemy? On his own? Actually speak, without legal counsel? Unthinkable!

But Trammell — a free agent, no less — came to talk about next year. And after a few minutes, which isn’t enough time for most agents to open their briefcases, he reached the heart of the matter.

“Do you want me back?” he asked.

Walker said, “Yes.”

Trammell said, “Good. I want to come back.”

A typical agent would have shot himself. Let them know you want them? Without making them squirm? Unheard of!

Nonetheless, it took Trammell and Walker only two more meetings, each no longer than 30 minutes. And when it was done, they shook hands and smiled.

For his services as a baseball player, Trammell will receive $1.2 million guaranteed next year, with incentives that could up that figure to $2 million. He also has an option year for 1994 that could be worth $2.4 million.

Would you take that? To play baseball?

Whoa! Get off me! It was just a question.

He knows the score

Here’s another question: Why aren’t more stories like this? Trammell, who has always been a ballplayer first, a superstar second, has now negotiated his last three deals by himself. In 1989, when he was ranked the No. 1 shortstop in baseball, he agreed to a three-year contract extension with Bill Lajoie during spring training — on the field!

It’s true. Lajoie came up during practice, offered a number, and said,
“What do you say?” Trammell, fielding grounders, thought for a minute, then answered, “You got it.”

Another handshake. Another deal closed.

Now. Before you think Trammell is some hayseed just happy to have a glove on his fingers and a hat on his head, consider that 1) That handshake with Lajoie was worth more than $6 million; 2) Trammell gets all the information he needs faxed from the players association offices, which tells him where he ranks in salary with every other player.

So he is not dealing from ignorance. Simply from preference. He likes to do it himself.

And he likes — and this will really send agents running to the gas pipe
— to be honest.

“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.,” said Trammell, 34. “But the truth is, I’ve been hurt lately. . . . I know it. They know it. They were willing to guarantee me substantial money even if I get hurt again. And if I play a lot and perform well, I’ll get paid even more.

“I think that’s fair.”

Please, Lord. Let him have a younger brother.

More money isn’t more happiness

Now. No doubt there are agents reading this and scoffing, “Ha! A measly
$1.2 million? I could have gotten more than that.” And maybe they could have. But unlike other bags-packed, me-first, “I’m only looking out for my family”
(so when I dump my second wife, I’ll have enough to pay her off) athletes, Trammell still values a few things besides money.

One is loyalty. He has worked for the Tigers since the minor leagues in the mid-’70s. He doesn’t want to end his career with some strange team in some strange town. Not for a handful of dollars.

And then there is integrity. Trammell has never asked to renegotiate a contract, even though he signed a seven-year deal in 1981 that, he said, paid him only $250,000 as a base, and $50,000 more each season. That means in 1984, when he helped lead the Tigers to a World Series crown and won Series MVP, he was making $400,000. That same year, Ozzie Smith earned more than $1 million.

“I know other players passed me in salary,” he said. “But I gave the Tigers my word. I had the security of a seven-year deal. . . . If I had gotten hurt, they would have still had to pay me.

“In the ’80s, we would sit around and talk contracts. A lot of my teammates said I should ask for more. I just said, ‘That’s your opinion.’ “

One of those guys was Jack Morris. Jack is King of the Bigger, Better Deal. He has changed teams three times in three years, getting richer with each move. He now has more money than you could pole vault over. He has a 10,000-acre ranch in Montana.

He also split from his family, and has ex-fans spitting at his name in Detroit and Minnesota. I know he’s richer than Alan Trammell. I don’t know that he’s so much happier.

I do know this: Trammell is one of the finest players to grace a Tigers uniform. His Gold Gloves and all-star teams prove it. But more: In a game that has become a haven for greed, ego, slimeball owners, indifferent superstars and a rapidly fading audience, Trammell has proven himself — and I don’t use the word often in sports — a gentleman.

Now. How much is that worth?

Mitch Albom will sign “Live Albom III” at noon today, Doubleday Books, Penobscot Building, Detroit, and 7 p.m., Little Professor, Plymouth.


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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