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Alan Trammell and What We Want the Hall of Fame to Look Like

I was six when Alan Trammell played his final game. I can’t say I remember seeing much of him with my own eyes. But I come from a family of Tigers fans, so much so that my parents had a dog before I was born named, you guessed it, Trammell.

So the issue of Alan Trammell’s Hall of Fame candidacy is of some importance to me, my family, and the majority of the state of Michigan. Trammell is a beloved figure from the ’84 World Series team and a less beloved figure from a less than perfect managerial stint prior to Jim Leyland’s (he’s found a better home as Kirk Gibson’s bench coach in Arizona).

But is he a Hall of Famer? He’s a great Tiger, but does he make the cut for baseball’s highest honor?

First, I guess I should make clear that the Hall of Fame voting and the BBWAA in general are a joke. Stubborn, self-righteous writers won’t vote for suspected steroid users despite no proof and some refuse to vote for anyone on the first ballot simply because Babe Ruth didn’t make it in unanimously on the first ballot, so no one should. Lots of things about the voting are silly, but let’s leave that aside and ask if Trammell should be in the Hall of Fame assuming the Hall of Fame is actually a good measure of real baseball value.

For a long time, I thought no. And so have most of the voters. 36.8% of the 2012 voters put Trammell on their ballots, which is a far cry from the necessary 75% needed for induction. But in recent years I’ve become a more sophisticated fan, especially in the area of comparing eras and positions.

Trammell doesn’t have any universally accepted counting stat thresholds like 3000 hits or 500 homeruns to rest his candidacy upon, but those marks aren’t necessary for induction, they are merely sufficient. Let’s examine Trammell’s candidacy.

Over 20 big league seasons, he played 2293 games, hit 185 homeruns, drove in 1003, scored 1231, and stole 236 bases. He hit .285/.352/.415, good for a .343 wOBA and 111 wRC+. With good defense, Fangraphs puts his WAR at a healthy 69.5 (Baseball Reference says 67.1).

I’m not going to go through the arguments for or against Trammell made by others, but rather I’m going to construct a case based solely on the evidence.

Let’s start my putting Trammell in the context of major league shortstops. In the simplest terms, Trammell in 16th in career WAR for a shortstop. Every retired player on the list ahead of him is in the Hall. Some behind him are in. Based on the players already in the Hall at short, it seems like Trammell has a strong case. But past decisions aren’t necessarily right, so we can’t just say Trammell should make it because other undeserving players have made it.

By all of the main counting stats, Trammell is somewhere between 14th and 21st all time for shortstops with no controls for era. He’s outside the top 30 in all of the rate stats, however. Again, we’re not controlling for era here. This is the crux of the problem with Trammell’s candidacy. If you look at his numbers, it looks like he played for 20 years and accumulated a lot of counting stats without ever rising to the to the rate levels of the other past greats.

But like I said, this ignores context. Offense shot up right as Trammell’s career was ending and only in the last few years has it headed back down. Let’s look at Trammell’s contemporaries. Shortstops who played from 1970 to 2000 (adding five years on each end). These are arbitrary end points, but during that 30 year span, only Cal Ripkin, Ozzie Smith, and Robin Yount have higher WARs.

Trammell’s case rests on being a very good shortstop at a time of lower offense. He wasn’t the best of his era and he isn’t the best at anything. He played well over a long career and had a peak that looked like a Hall of Fame peak. Trammell’s best seasons are Hall of Fame worthy, but some of his worst seasons drag down the overall resume. Trammell is a good study in what you think the Hall of Fame should be.

I’ve always been a “story of the game” guy. The Hall of Fame to me is a museum to the game’s history and it should include the players who are vital to understanding the game. For this reason, I’m for admitting the suspected steroid users. But where does that leave Trammell?

By counting stats, he should be in. By rate stats, he’s probably not good enough. But that’s before you factor in the context of his position and his era. If the threshold for induction is that you have to be better than the worst player who is in, Trammell makes the cut. If there is a more ideal definition I think his case is less clear.

Trammell is vital to the story of the Tigers, but I don’t know how much he matters to the game as a whole. The fourth best shortstop of his era and a top 20 or 30 shortstop all time. If you like a big Hall of Fame, there is room for him. If you’re an exclusivity fan, he’s probably on the outside looking in.

Despite the quirks of voting, the Hall is still sacred ground. It does matter who gets in and who doesn’t. I’m left wavering on Trammell because I’m a story of the game guy and an exclusivity hawk. I want to induct players who were great and players that mattered. Greg Maddux is going in the Hall soon because he was great (and mattered), but I’m also more favorable toward Jack Morris because of his role in one of the great pitching classics of all time (Game 7, 1991 World Series) even if his raw numbers don’t warrant an inclusion in my book.

By my own standards, if I was redrawing the Hall of Fame, I think I would leave Trammell out. He doesn’t meet my own internal standards for the Hall, but he does mean the standards of the Hall as it currently stands.

Like I said, the Hall is a quirky place. Tim Raines isn’t in, but Jim Rice is. That doesn’t really add up. Hell, Pete Rose isn’t in the Hall. Voters have a lot of weird traditions and unwritten rules that don’t make sense. Certain voters see themselves as privileged gatekeepers to the point of ridiculousness. Bonds won’t make it because maybe he used steroids, but racists and wife beaters are just fine with them. The voters are the morality police without the moral compass.

As a Tigers fan, I want Trammell to get in. If I was designing my own Hall of Fame, I’d probably leave him out. But he belongs in this one. He has four years left of eligibility and he might get lost in the other battles raging over the Hall.

Given the criteria and the boundaries drawn by voters past and present, Alan Trammell belongs in the Hall of Fame.

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