If anybody should want former Tigers second baseman Lou Whitaker erased from the Baseball Hall of Fame talk, it should be me. He tried to steal my girl in high school, and he gave me shitty interviews, if he talked to me at all.
The Detroit baseball community received another smack in the face this week when third baseman Scott Rolen made it into the HOF, which reminded us once again that Sweet Lou is still waiting.
One of the theories why Whitaker is unelectable is his relationship with the media. I dreaded whenever the paper sent me to Tiger Stadium to do a story on Whitaker. He wouldn’t talk to me half the time, and other times it was like pulling teeth.
One time I went to do a story on Whitaker. He said, “Lou Whitaker doesn’t talk before games.”
I snapped, “Sorry. I didn’t get the memo.”
He was not mean. He wasn’t trying to be a jerk. Whitaker did not like tooting his own horn. My job was to get him to toot his horn.
The year before his rookie season with the Tigers, I met him at the old Lindell AC, America’s first sports bar.
“The next great third baseman”
“This is the Tigers’ next great third baseman,” owner Jimmy Butsicaris said as he introduced him to me. He did play third base in the minors, but moved to second before being called up by the parent club.
I got a bullshit handshake. Then he started talking to my girlfriend, Debbie June Coleman, who came along with me. They were both Jehovah’s Witnesses, which sparked the talk. I had no desire to join. They chatted for 20 minutes, but Debbie left with me, a decision I’m sure she still regrets.
But I can put my petty differences aside and recognize greatness. This man played 19 seasons with the Tigers and was one half of the greatest double play combination in Baseball history. That would be enough to get him elected if he played for New York or Boston.
“I’ve never been disappointed at all,” Whitaker said prior to his number being retired by the Tigers. “Things happen. Sometimes, just be patient. I may have thought about it a time or two, but I’ve never thought about it like I belong there. I’ve never said that to myself.”
Lou Whitaker stats speak for themselves
I, too, struggled whether he belonged at first. He batted .276 with 243 home runs and 1,084 RBIs in his career.
Then analytics became a thing and it was clear Lou Whitaker belonged. His WAR of 75.1 is 80th in baseball history, tied with Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame catcher Johnny Bench.
His WAR for second basemen is seventh best of all time. The six men ahead of him are all in the Hall. Meanwhile, Ryne Sandberg, Roberto Alomar, Craig Biggio, Nellie Fox and Joe Gordon are all in the Hall of Fame despite trailing Whitaker in WAR.
Maybe if he did backflips after every spectacular double play turn, he’d be in. Or maybe if he stared down the pitcher after hitting a home run, he’d be in. And maybe if he was more accessible to the media, he’d be in.
Photo Credit: © Mary Schroeder, Detroit Free Press via Imagn Content Services, LLC