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.
The 2013 MLB Hall of Fame ballot is out, and it’s time to start yelling and screaming. Why you ask? Well because we’re welcoming a wave of suspected steroid users into the conversation and people seem to have strong opinions about that.
Here is the official ballot, and you can see a lot of first timers are controversial like Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, and Roger Clemens along with previous question marks like Mark McGwire and Jeff Bagwell. Curt Schilling, Mike Piazza, and Craig Biggio are others of note joining the party for the first time.
I’m not going to assess each candidacy individually, but I will say that there are some players who clearly belong in the Hall based on their numbers, but might have a tough time getting in because of their conduct. Presumably, in a world in which we could know with certainty that Barry Bonds never used steroids, he would be a first ballot Hall of Famer easily. Same goes for Sosa and Clemens. No question.
The rest of the players I’ve named are all Hall-worthy, but some of them are under suspicion to varying degrees. Let’s ask the more important question here. Should steroid use matter in Hall of Fame voting?
We can never know who used and who didn’t, so all of this is based on suspicion because none of these guys ever failed a test (although McGwire has admitted to using). Let’s assume for a moment that all of these players would make the Hall of Fame if there was no suspicious on steroid use and that higher suspicion decreases an individual’s likelihood of election.
There are different scenarios for how to address this.
1) Suspicion versus Evidence?
Should we keep players out of the Hall because we think they used? This is an important question. Manny Ramirez, who won’t be eligible for four more years, failed two tests. We know he used banned substances. Bonds never failed a test; we just think he used banned substances. Should we vote based on a feeling, in the absence of true evidence? I would argue that we probably shouldn’t.
We think certain players used, but we don’t actually know. A lot of players used steroids and we’ll never know exactly who did. That includes the players who competed against each of these stars. That doesn’t make their choices to use morally okay, but it does make me think that we can’t just decide certain players don’t belong in the Hall because we think they may have done something wrong. We don’t have evidence. We want to punish users because they corrupted the sport, but we can’t just keep people out of the Hall of Fame because we think they did something wrong.
A jury shouldn’t convict someone just because they look like a murderer if there is no evidence they murdered someone. Certainly, the stakes are different, but the logic is the same.
If we don’t have proof, can we really say who is clean and who isn’t?
2) Is excluding suspected users immoral?
This is an interesting perspective. If we exclude users, are we punishing them or are we trying to hide from a black mark on the game’s record. Wouldn’t we be pretty upset if Germany just stopped putting Nazis in history books because they were bad people? Isn’t the Hall of Fame a museum to baseball? Shouldn’t it include the good and the bad?
I could understand not wanting to celebrate Bonds, but his absence from the Hall would just be strange. He’s the all-time HR leader and one of the best players of all time. He may have cheated to get that far, but we can’t just say he never happened, can we?
If we hide from what brings us shame, we’re trying to pretend it never happened.
3) The Story of the Game
How can we exclude steroid users when they were such a big part of baseball? How can I take my kids to a Cooperstown that doesn’t include the best players of my childhood? They might not be the heroes we want them to be, but they were the best.
We don’t just ignore Nixon because he broke the law. He’s a critical character in American history for that very reason. Bonds can be a villain, but all great stories need villains. These guys were bad guys, we can say, but they are part of our history and we were really happy when clean players broke their records and stole their limelight.
4) What about the Type II Error?
This is a problem in the same vein as #1. What if we exclude a player who earned his way into the Hall cleanly because we thought he used. What if Bonds was totally clean? Wouldn’t we rather have a few bad apples in the Hall if it means all of the innocent people made it in for sure instead of keeping innocent people out in order to make sure none of the guilty get in?
This is a serious dilemma for the voters. Which is better? I’d feel a lot worse if a clean player was left out that if a steroid user got in.
All said, what should we do about the steroid era and the Hall of Fame? I’ve waivered about this for a while, but now that the day has come, it’s time to decide. How do we handle such a complex problem?
I think we have to let them in.
It’s wrong to punish someone on suspicion alone and we shouldn’t try to whitewash over a black period of history. We need to tell the whole story and I don’t want anyone punished for something they didn’t do.
It’s our responsibility as fans to teach our kids about the game in the most honest way possible. When the time comes, my kids will know I think Barry Bonds cheated, but they’ll also know that I can’t prove it. I’ll tell him he was a force to be reckoned with in the box, but I don’t know if he or anyone else was using something they shouldn’t have.
I’ll tell him he’s in the Hall because the Hall is a museum to the game, not a reward for the best behaved.
Most importantly, I teach my kids the important lesson of Bonds and Clemens and Sosa. I’ll teach them that cheating might be a good short term answer, but it’s never the right choice in the long run. I’ll tell them about how I sat up at night watching Barry Bonds break the homerun record in a quiet house. I’ll tell them that no one celebrated outside of San Francisco.
I’ll tell them how everyone said Bonds’ name with disgust, disappointment, or indifference.
He broke the most hallowed record in sports and almost no one really cared. Compare that with the excitement of Aaron passing Ruth and you’ll learn the valuable lesson. Cheating might earn you some hardware. It might make you some money. You might even make it into the Hall of Fame.
But it won’t earn you respect and it won’t make you happy.
We should let the suspected users into the Hall because if they cheated, they’ll be the ones living with the lie, not us.