From 1901 through 2000, no team played at least .536 ball in a 10-year span without any Hall of Famers — except these:
- Detroit Tigers, 1979-88 — .553 W%
- Detroit Tigers, 1978-87 — .551 W%
- Detroit Tigers, 1980-89 — .536 W%
- Detroit Tigers, 1977-86 — .536 W%
Yes, friends … Another year’s Hall of Fame vote has gone by, so it’s time for my annual “Trammaker” speech. But I’m shifting focus this year.
There were 193 ten-year spans between .535 and .555 in the 20th century. The non-Tigers spans averaged 23 years from Hall of Famers, not counting those who played for more than one team in a season. But no one who played a game for Detroit in that era has been inducted. (In fact, the last HOFer to play even one game for Detroit was Al Kaline, 1974; the last to pitch for them was Jim Bunning, 1963.)
In the best of those listed spans, 1979-88, Detroit’s .553 W% ranked 2nd out of 26 teams. On an annual basis, they were about 90-72, a half-game behind the #1 Yankees, and 3.5 games ahead of #3 Boston. They had a memorable championship year and another division crown, each time with baseball’s best record. They finished 2nd twice — one game out in ’88, and MLB’s 3rd-best record in ’83 — and were 2 games back another year. They were relevant every season; their worst was 83-79.
In the next tier down, from .516 to .535, these 10-year spans had no Hall of Famer:
- Toronto Blue Jays, 1981-90* — .535 W%
- Detroit Tigers, 1981-90 — .533 W%
- Detroit Tigers, 1982-91 — .530 W%
- Detroit Tigers, 1976-85 — .528 W%
- Detroit Tigers, 1983-92 — .525 W%
- Toronto Blue Jays, 1980-89* — .523 W%
- Detroit Tigers, 1984-93 — .521 W%
(* Well, the ’87 Blue Jays had Phil Niekro, but only for only 3 games.)
From 1976 through 1993, all nine Detroit 10-year spans had at least a .521 W%, a World Series title, and not a single appearance by a Hall of Famer. In the whole 20th century, no one else had a 10-year span with a winning record and a playoff series victory, without some input by a HOF inductee.
Besides the nine Tigers spans listed so far, the remaining 10-year spans with a winning record and no HOFers:
- Blue Jays, 1981-90 — .535 W%, two division titles, lost both playoffs.
- Blue Jays, 1980-89 — .523 W%, see above.
- Giants, 1991-2000 — .515 W%, two divisions, lost both first-round series.
(And Barry Bonds would be in the Hall, if not for … Plus, Jeff Kent has only been on the ballot two years.)
- Tigers, 1975-84 — .512 W%, one championship.
- Pirates, 1987-96 — .507 W%, three divisions, lost all three playoffs. (Plus, Bonds.)
- Pirates, 1988-97 — .506 W%, see above.
- Tigers, 1985-94 — .504 W%, one division, lost playoffs.
- Pirates, 1986-95 — .501 W%, see above.
That covers 20 years for the Tigers, 1975-94 — eleven 10-year spans, each with a winning record and a first-place finish, and no Hall of Famer. Out of 894 winning 10-year spans in the 20th century, just six others had no HOFer. Four of those had at least 5 years of Barry Bonds, and the other two were those ’80s Blue Jays.
For W% between .520 and .555, there are 374 ten-year spans. The only ones blanked by the Hall were those nine of the Tigers (1976-93) and two of the Jays (1980-90). The rest had an average and median of 21 seasons by HOFers.
In the tight range from .550 to .555 W%, there are 46 ten-year spans. Every such span has been Hall-honored, except the Tigers of 1978-87 and ’79-88. All the rest had at least 7 HOF years, except the 1982-91 Blue Jays (one); the non-Tigers average was 24 years by HOFers. Every span in that range had at least two Hall of Famers in some year, except the two Detroit spans (none), and the 1976-85 Royals and ’82-91 Jays (high of one per year).
Even truly bad teams have more feet in the Hall than the Tigers of Alan Trammell, Lou Whitaker and Jack Morris. There are 78 sub-.400 ten-year spans, akin to 65-97 or worse in a modern schedule. They averaged 7 years of play by HOFers. The worst 10-year span — the 1936-45 Phillies averaged 51-102, never less than 34 games behind — had nine years of Chuck Klein, and one each by Jimmie Foxx and Lloyd Waner, as regulars.
In fact, pick a team 10-year span at random between 1901-2000. There’s a 97% chance they had at least one Hall of Famer — only 55 of 1,698 didn’t — and an 85% chance they had at least two Hall of Famers in some year. Those with none averaged a .461 W% — except the Tigers during the 20-year span of Trammell and Whitaker, who averaged .523.
Is that just coincidence? An accident of random distribution, and a balanced team that just happened to pull off a successful generation with no truly great players? Or does this team-based approach expose a real oversight?
Through 1996, just two World Series winners had no Hall of Famers:
- The ’84 Tigers won 104 games in the regular season and lost once in the postseason.
- The ’81 Dodgers had their division’s 2nd-best record, but made the playoffs by the split-season quirk.
Among regulars on those five Hall-denied league champs, here’s everyone with 35+ career WAR — first, position players:
- 74.9, Lou Whitaker, ’84 Tigers
- 70.4, Alan Trammell, ’84 Tigers
- 58.5, Darrell Evans, ’84 Tigers
- 55.5, Chet Lemon, ’84 Tigers
- 53.5, Ron Cey, ’81 Dodgers
- 52.5, Stan Hack, ’45 Cubs
- 45.4, Vern Stephens, ’44 Browns
- 42.2, Davey Lopes, ’81 Dodgers
- 42.2, Lenny Dykstra, ’93 Phillies
- 41.7, Bill Nicholson, ’45 Cubs
- 39.3, Lance Parrish, ’84 Tigers
- 38.3, Kirk Gibson, ’84 Tigers
- 37.7, Steve Garvey, ’81 Dodgers
- 36.9, Dusty Baker, ’81 Dodgers
- 36.7, Andy Pafko, ’45 Cubs
And the pitchers:
- 80.7, Curt Schilling, ’93 Phillies
- 43.5, Bob Welch, ’81 Dodgers (got no outs in his one WS appearance)
- 43.4, Jack Morris, ’84 Tigers
- 42.8, Claude Passeau, ’45 Cubs
- 39.6, Charlie Hough, ’81 Dodgers
- 39.0, Paul Derringer, ’45 Cubs
- 37.4, Fernando Valenzuela, ’81 Dodgers
- 36.6, Burt Hooton, ’81 Dodgers
The ’84 Tigers had 8 of those 23 players, and 5 of the top 10. Schilling, the WAR leader of this group, hasn’t garnered 40% in three ballots, but has seven tries left. He’ll get in … or I’ll dust off my picketing shoes. I haven’t gone that far yet for Trammell and Whitaker, fearing to seem a provincial Tigers fan, but the joke is starting to wear thin.
Bottom line: The ’84 Tigers were clearly the best World Series or league champ still not blessed by the Hall.
In the 15 years from 1979-93, Detroit won the most games in MLB, a .525 W%. (Their .528 pythagorean W% also was best.) Next in wins were the Yankees, with 25 regular years by 7 different HOFers; then the Expos (16 regular years from 3 HOFers), and the Blue Jays (5 regular years by 3 HOFers, plus two cameos).
Someone wearing the Old English “D” won a lot of games in that era. And that’s really what WAR is about: attributing wins on the field to individual players.
Here are Detroit’s WAR leaders for 1979-93 — first, position players:
And then pitchers:
Now, you could explain Detroit’s success without anointing anyone, if there was a parade of stars in short stints with the club. But Trammell and Whitaker account for Detroit’s top five WAR years in that span (6.7+ WAR), and almost half their top 40 (4.1+ WAR):
- 10 by Whitaker
- 9 by Trammell
- 4 by Tony Phillips
- 3 by Kirk Gibson
- 2 by Chet Lemon
- 2 by Darrell Evans
- 2 by Lance Parrish
- 2 by Mickey Tettleton
- 2 by Travis Fryman
- 1 each by Steve Kemp, Cecil Fielder, Chad Kreuter and Milt Cuyler
On the pitching side, Morris had four of their top five years (4.9+ WAR), and half their top 10 (4.0+ WAR) — Morris 5, Dan Petry 2, one each for Doyle Alexander (in a third of a season) and the relievers Willie Hernandez and Aurelio Lopez.
Those clubs never had a superstar — Hernandez won their only major awards, in one fluky season — and no other big stars. No one who played for Detroit in the ’80s survived two years on the Hall of Fame ballot or cracked 6% of a vote, except Trammell and Morris. Trammell has yet to reap 40% of a ballot, trending downward with just one year left.
Team records help expose some silly Hall selections. Take the Braves of 1922-31. (Please.) They averaged 60-94, with no winning years, and high marks of 5th place and 22 games behind. Yet they had 15 years of regular play from five Hall of Famers, not counting a brief Burleigh Grimes stopover and a Johnny Evers cameo. Okay, Rogers Hornsby had one great year. But the rest … Dave Bancroft averaged a decent 2.6 WAR and 111 games over 4 years (age 33-36). His successor, Rabbit Maranville, averaged 1.5 WAR in 144 games for 3 years (37-39). George Sisler’s last 3 years averaged 0.7 WAR in 136 games (35-37). And Rube Marquard’s last 4 years averaged 0.6 WAR in 136 IP, and totaled a 25-39 record and 89 ERA+ (age 35-38).
Those four marginal HOFers obviously weren’t in their prime during that span. But there are countless examples in the same vein.
Bill James once wrote:
“It has become common to bash the selection of Tinker, Evers and Chance to the Hall of Fame. [T]his is perilously near an absurd argument, to wit: [They] were not really great ballplayers, they merely happened to win a huge number of games. The definition of a great ballplayer is a ballplayer who helps his team to win a lot of games.”
No one’s comparing the Tigers of 1979-88 (.553 W%) to the Cubs of 1903-12, whose .648 W% marks the best 10-year span in modern history. But the big leagues were far more stratified in that era. Two contemporary NL powers, Christy Mathewson’s Giants and Honus Wagner’s Pirates, also had 10-year spans at .634+ centered in the Aughts, both among the modern top 12. The Cubs won four pennants in their span, but their other six years averaged 10 games behind the Giants or Pirates.
More on point, those great Cubs teams have been honored with four Hall of Famers. The “trio of Bearcubs,” plus Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown, gave that 10-year span a total of 39 HOF seasons. Tinker, Chance and Evers ranked 6th, 8th and 11th in total WAR for 1903-12, but miles behind the top three of Wagner, Lajoie and Cobb. Brown joined the Cubs in 1904, and ranks 5th in pitching WAR for 1904-13.
From 1979-88, in a much bigger and more competitive MLB, Trammell and Whitaker ranked 8th and 16th in player WAR, and Morris 2nd in pitcher WAR. Stretch the span to 15 years, 1979-93, you get Trammell 5th, Whitaker 6th, while the Tigers won more games than anyone. Everyone else in that top 10 is enshrined.
Is it not absurd to suggest that this keystone combo were not really great players, they just happened to win a great many games? They anchored a 10-year run that rivals the best spans in Detroit history:
- The Tigers of 1907-16 had a .560 W%, three pennants (but no championship), behind 10 years each of Ty Cobb and Sam Crawford, plus one full year of Harry Heilmann. Adjusting for eras, Trammaker’s .553 is at least as impressive as Cobb’s .560.
- Detroit’s third-best span, .552 from 1932-41, featured 28 years by Hall of Fame position players — 10 by Gehringer, 9 by Greenberg (7 full), 4 by Goslin, 4 by Cochrane (2 full), 2 by Averill, and one fine year by Al Simmons. They won three pennants, one championship.
- The next-best Tigers span from a different era is .550 from 1961-70. Not as HOF-saturated, this stretch still had 10 years of Al Kaline and 3 prime years of Jim Bunning. Similar in some ways to the Trammaker era, those Tigers had one championship and one near-miss at the pennant. Kaline, who breezed into the Hall on the first ballot, totaled 49.3 WAR in that span, just below Trammell’s 49.6 for 1979-88.
It would be easy to go too far with that line of reasoning, so let’s sum up the first points and move on:
- The ’80s-era Tigers are easily the best team of the 20th century with no Hall of Fame representation.
- The ’84 Tigers are the best such championship team.
Again, the 1979-88 Tigers played at .553, which is just under 90 wins in a full slate — 3 wins more than the next-best team span with no HOFer, besides adjacent Detroit spans.
They have three legitimate HOF candidates. Morris had the best ballot luck, peaking near 68% in 2013, but his tries at the front door are over. He has perhaps the best old-school credentials, but was shunned by the sabermetric bloc (with whom I agree).
Trammell and Whitaker are slam-dunks to most of the advanced-stats brigade — both stand miles above the Hall of Stats threshold, and rank 11th at their positions by JAWS (and both scales include a peak component) — but also to those old-style thinkers who dare to view counting stats in the context of era, position, and team success.
Even ignoring modern value gauges, there are many Hall of Fame middle infielders with worse credentials (career or peak) than Trammell and Whitaker, if you take their batting stats with a grain of contextual salt. What put Rabbit Maranville, Luis Aparicio, Nellie Fox or Red Schoendienst in the Hall, except longevity and team success?
Yet here’s Trammell, 10th in career games at SS (7th when he retired), and Whitaker 4th at 2B (retired #3). For the whole modern era through 2000, both rank in the top 25 middle infielders in:
- Hits (nos. 17-18)
- Extra-base hits (10, 14)
- Total bases (11, 15)
- Runs (10, 23)
- RBI (18, 21)
All this was in spite of a neutral offensive era, unlike many HOFers with inflated batting stats from the 1920s-30s and the steroids era. Among MIFs still not enshrined for stats compiled through 2000, Trammaker are #1-2 in hits, XBH and TB, #1 and 5 in runs, #3-4 in RBI.
Against stiff competition, they totaled 7 Gold Gloves and 9 All-Star nods, all from 1980-90. Among MIFs in the ’80s, they were #1-2 in hits and runs, #2-3 in total bases, #2 and 4 in RBI.
They batted #1-2 throughout Detroit’s march to the ’84 championship, with Trammell named Series MVP (.450 BA/1.300 OPS, with 6 RBI and 5 runs in 5 games). Trammell hit cleanup throughout their ’87 division title year, batting .343-28-105 to join Rogers Hornsby in the .340-20-100 club for middle infielders — the first to do that at SS, or to add 20 steals to that mix. (Since joined by Hanley Ramirez.) He just missed the MVP that year in a very close vote that laughed in the face of his and George Bell‘s stretch-run performance. (Bell hit .111 with one RBI as Toronto lost their last 7 games to blow the crown, while Tram hit .417/1.167 in September.)
Trammell and Whitaker have the historic distinction of more games played together than any other teammates, far more years and games than any other 2B/SS tandem — almost 500 games more than the #2 pair. Yet instead of raising their profile, that constant conjunction seems to have blurred their identities and hurt both their chances.
The negative argument goes thus: “They’re so similar that you can’t have just one in the Hall. And if both were so great, why did they win just one title?”
Gee, I dunno … Why didn’t Robin Yount and Paul Molitor win any titles in 15 years together? Or Nellie Fox and Luis Aparicio in their 7 years? Why didn’t Jackie Robinson and Pee Wee Reese win a Series in their five years as keystone mates — the best 5-year WAR stretch of any tandem — or more than one in their 10 years as teammates? How come Evers and Tinker plus Chance and Brown only won it all twice? Why no 1906 pennant for Nap Lajoie (10.0 WAR) and Terry Turner (9.4), the only tandem that both topped 7 WAR? Why no pennants at all for Lajoie?
One Series crown was the limit for Rogers Hornsby (with 4 HOF teammates contributing), Lou Boudreau (also 4), Pee Wee Reese (3), Charlie Gehringer (3), Travis Jackson (3), Aparicio (3), Honus Wagner (2), Cal Ripken (2), Joe Sewell (2), Ozzie Smith (with Bruce Sutter), Rabbit Maranville (with Evers), and Barry Larkin. (By my reckoning, only Larkin won a Series with no HOF help.)
No WS titles at all for Lajoie, Yount, Ryne Sandberg, Arky Vaughan, Joe Cronin, Billy Herman, Fox, Luke Appling, Bobby Doerr or Ernie Banks.
Winning more than one World Series is the exception for HOF middle infielders. I may have missed someone, but I count 11 middle infielders in the Hall now with two rings or more — less than a third of the Hall of Fame MIFs whose careers were centered in the WS era. Phil Rizzuto won 7 (his pipeline to induction), Joe Gordon and Tony Lazzeri 5 each (Derek Jeter will join them), Eddie Collins and Frankie Frisch 4, Evers 3, and 2 each for Tinker, Dave Bancroft, Joe Morgan, Roberto Alomar and Red Schoendienst. (Bill Mazeroski won 2 rings, but he sat the bench in ’71.)
If failing to win twice is a black mark on a Hall of Fame SS or 2B, Trammell and Whitaker would have plenty of company.
So, at last, these team-based and player-centric trains of thought meet at this point:
- There is virtually no precedent for excluding a SS or 2B with such counting stats — and none at all for Hall-snubbing such a successful 10-year team span, or such a great champion.
What is wrong with this picture? Can you make sense of it?