Since Lou Whitaker has retired, the Detroit Tigers have still yet to draft a replacement.
For any Detroit Tigers fan growing up as a kid in the late 80s and into the 90s, you remember the Detroit teams that could hit with power with players such as Cecil Fielder, Mickey Tettleton, Tony Phillips and Travis Fryman. You would try to imitate Tettleton’s swing, playing with your friends and watch the faces of the team go from the heros of 1984 to the new crop of players taking their place. But the one consistent in that transition was Lou Whitaker and Alan Trammell.
The dynamic duo turned more double plays than any other combo in baseball history. Even into his mid 30’s, Whitaker was productive. At the age of 34 in 1991, he hit 28 home runs, batted a slash line of .279/ .391/ .489 with an OPS of .881. That season gave him a bWAR of 4.7, the 8th best in Tigers history.
When he retired in 1995, the Detroit Tigers lost one of the last player development victories under Bill Lajoie. Lajoie drafted the core of the 1984 World Series team. Players like Hall of Famers Jack Morris, Trammell, Lance Parrish, Dan Petry and Tom Brookens and even Mark Fidrych were drafted under Lajoie’s watch.
While the days of players staying with one team are becoming increasing rare, it’s at least more common to have a few positional players develop from within your system. How steady was Lou in his time in Detroit at second base? He played over 100 games until 1994. Only in his final season he did not start over 100 games.
Since then, the Tigers have used 42 different second baseman, seven of which were drafted and went through the Tigers development system. Only Omar Infante has fit the criteria of being one who started at least 100 games at second who was a homegrown talent.
Lou Whitaker should go into the Hall of Fame, no doubt. His numbers speak for themselves and how much of a once in a lifetime player he was for the Tigers. Since he has retired, the Tigers have had some impactful players via the trade route play the position. Ian Kinsler, Plácido Polanco and Damion Easley all were huge parts of the Tigers’ offense. So does it really matter if the next future All-Star second baseman is homegrown? Depends on your point of view.
Today’s retirement of his number one is special because not only of his talents on the field, but how rare Lou was as a player. We all know it was long overdue and I agree with Terry Foster about he deserves more than just a day.
His 75.1 WAR is better than 15 current players who are in the Hall of Fame. 15. If you combine Kinsler. Polanco, Easley and Infantes combined WAR in a Tigers uniform, it adds up to 51.7. Not too shabby, but Infante’s 7.3 bWAR is the only one that is homegrown. He is not just a Detroit great; he is an all-time great.
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