|Born: May 12, 1957|
Brooklyn, New York
|September 9, 1977, for the Detroit Tigers|
|Last MLB appearance|
|October 1, 1995, for the Detroit Tigers|
|Runs batted in||1,084|
|Career highlights and awards|
Louis Rodman Whitaker Jr. (born May 12, 1957), nicknamed "Sweet Lou", is an American former professional baseball second baseman who played for the Detroit Tigers of Major League Baseball (MLB) from 1977 to 1995. He won the American League Rookie of the Year Award in 1978, and was a five-time MLB All-Star in his career. He won four Silver Slugger Awards and three Gold Glove Awards. Whitaker and teammate Alan Trammell comprised the longest running double play combination in MLB history (19 seasons).
Whitaker was born in Brooklyn, New York City. When he was one year old, his mother, who was pregnant with his sister, Matilda, moved with Lou to Martinsville, Virginia, to live with her family. Whitaker attended Martinsville High School. He played for the school's baseball team as a middle infielder and pitcher. Whitaker graduated in 1975, and committed to play college baseball for Ferrum College.
The Detroit Tigers selected Whitaker in the fifth round, with the 99th overall selection, of the 1975 MLB draft. He signed with the Tigers rather than attend college. He made his professional debut that year for the Bristol Tigers of the Rookie-level Appalachian League. He played for the Lakeland Tigers of the Class A Florida State League in 1976. The team's starting third baseman, he batted .297 and was named the league's most valuable player.
After the 1976 season, the Tigers assigned Whitaker to the Arizona Instructional League, where they converted him into a second baseman and paired him with shortstop Alan Trammell. In 1977, they both played for the Montgomery Rebels of the Double-A Southern League, Whitaker batting .280 during the season. The two were both promoted to the Major Leagues late in the 1977 season and had become starters for the Tigers by the end of April 1978. They would remain teammates until Whitaker retired in 1995.
In 1978, Whitaker won the American League Rookie of the Year Award, hitting .285 with 71 runs, 20 stolen bases and a .361 on-base percentage.
After hitting no more than five home runs in any of his first four seasons, Whitaker began to find his power stroke in 1982, with 15 round-trippers.
Whitaker enjoyed a strong season in 1983, hitting for a .320 average with 206 hits, 12 home runs, 72 runs batted in (RBI), 94 runs, and a .380 on-base percentage. That year he made the first of five consecutive All-Star appearances, won the first of his three Gold Glove awards, and earned the first of his four Silver Slugger awards at second base. He finished eighth in the 1983 AL MVP Award voting. Trammell and Whitaker also made a cameo appearance as themselves on the television show Magnum, P.I., starring Tom Selleck, during the 1983 season. Selleck's character was a Tigers fan, as is Selleck himself.
In 1984, Whitaker contributed a .289 batting average, 13 home runs, and another Gold Glove season as the Tigers ran away with the AL East Division and eventually won the World Series. Whitaker hit .278 in the Series with a .409 on-base percentage, scoring six runs in the five games. The day Detroit clinched the Series, the second eldest of Whitaker's four daughters was born.
In 1985, Whitaker set a record for Detroit second basemen with 21 home runs, while topping 100 runs scored for the first time in his career (102). In 1986, he was a member of a Tigers infield in which all four members (Whitaker, Darrell Evans, Alan Trammell and Darnell Coles) hit at least twenty home runs. In 1987, he scored a career-high 110 runs and won his final Silver Slugger award at second base as the Tigers edged out the Toronto Blue Jays on the final day of the regular season to win the AL East Division title.
Whitaker reached career highs with 28 homers and 85 RBI in 1989, one of four times he reached the 20-HR plateau, upping his record for the most homers in a season by a Tiger second baseman. Whitaker now shares the season record with Ian Kinsler, who hit 28 homers in 2016 as the Tigers regular second baseman.
Although 1990 saw Whitaker post his lowest batting average in ten years (.237), he didn't let it affect his defense. On the season, Whitaker handled 664 chances and committed only 6 errors, for a career-best .991 fielding percentage. His 1990 range factor was 5.71, well above the league average of 5.23.
In 1991, Whitaker's 23 home runs and career-high 90 walks helped him to an .881 OPS, the highest of his career to that point. Whitaker reached three career milestones in 1992, recording his 2,000th game, 2,000th hit, and his 200th home run.
He retired following the 1995 season. Whitaker is unique among long-career players in that he had the highest OPS of his career in his final season, .890 in 1995, although he only played in 84 games. Equally unique, Whitaker's OPS actually improved in each of his three final seasons. In 1993, he posted a .290 batting average and a career-best .412 on-base percentage, leading to an .861 OPS. In 1994, he hit .301 in 94 games with an .867 OPS.
Along with his American League contemporaries Frank White and Willie Randolph, Whitaker was considered one of the best defensive players at his position throughout the 1980s. His defense was considered fundamentally sound, not flashy. Said baseball writer Craig Calcaterra, recalling Whitaker's defense in a 2019 article: "Everyone would agree that catching everything hit your way, effortlessly turning double plays and making strong steady throws all the time defined great second base defense, but for some reason the guys who were considered the best defensive players back then were always the guys who dove for stuff or made whatever passed for highlight reel plays of the day. With that came little acknowledgment that a great many defensive dives and slick plays are a function of players getting to balls late and having to do something fancy, as opposed to making it look effortless."
Whitaker was an effective leadoff man, adept at drawing walks (averaging 81 BB per 162 games), quick on the bases, and able to drive the ball with power to all fields. In his 19-year career, Whitaker batted .276 with a .363 on-base percentage, 244 home runs, 1,084 RBI, 1,386 runs, 2,369 hits, 420 doubles, 65 triples, and 143 stolen bases in 2,390 games. He also recorded a 1.089 walk-to-strikeout ratio. Defensively, he recorded a .984 fielding percentage playing every inning of his career at second base. His career Wins Against Replacement (WAR) of 75.1 ranks 51st all-time among position players, and is higher than all but six second basemen (all six of whom are in the Hall of Fame).
Whitaker is also one of only 19 players ever to hit a ball over the roof of Tiger Stadium.
After retirement, Whitaker became an instructor for the Tigers during their spring training sessions in Lakeland, Florida, where he helped coaching hitters through the 2009 season. He and the Tigers parted ways in 2010 by mutual agreement.
Whitaker was selected to the Major League Baseball All-Star Game five times: 1983, 1984, 1985, 1986 and 1987.
In the 1985 All-Star Game, Whitaker forgot to pack his uniform. Making this discovery just before the game, he had to make do with replica merchandise available for purchase at the park. He obtained an adjustable mesh hat and a blank jersey. He finished off his outfit by scrawling his number on the back in magic marker (or, by some accounts, having a fan do so for him). The Smithsonian requested the jersey and it remains a part of their collection.
During the 1986 All-Star Game, Whitaker was one of the five players struck out consecutively by National League pitcher Fernando Valenzuela, tying Carl Hubbell's mark. Whitaker earlier hit a two-run homer in the game, which the American League won 3-2.
Whitaker ranks among the Tigers' all-time leaders in many categories, including the following:
He had 1,099 strikeouts #2 in franchise history.
He had 1,527 double plays #1 in franchise history.
He had 1,197 bases on balls #2 in franchise history.
He had 6,653 assists #2 in franchise history.
He played 2,390 games, #3 in franchise history.
He had 143 times grounded into a double play #3 in franchise history.
He had 11,613 total chances #4 in franchise history.
He had 1,386 runs scored #4 in franchise history.
He was caught stealing 75 times, #4 in franchise history.
He had 412 doubles #5 in franchise history.
He had 3,651 total bases #5 in franchise history.
He had 2,369 hits #6 in franchise history.
He had 244 home runs #6 in franchise history.
He had 729 extra base hits #6 in franchise history.
He had 1,084 RBIs #8 in franchise history.
He had 189 errors #10 in franchise history.
He had 143 stolen bases #10 in franchise history.
Although the team has not officially retired Whitaker's jersey, there has been some debate among fans on social media outlets and on sports talk radio when it was announced in August 2013 that newly acquired infielder José Iglesias would take over the number. Iglesias was the first player to wear jersey #1 since Whitaker's retirement in 1995. Upon joining the Tigers in 2019, Josh Harrison chose to wear number 1 to honor Whitaker, again sparking debate over the number's status. On December 17, 2019, the Tigers announced that they would retire the number on August 29, 2020.
Whitaker was considered for election to the Baseball Hall of Fame by the Baseball Writers' Association of America (BBWAA) in 2001, but received only 15 votes (2.9%). His low vote total surprised many observers, including Bill James, who named Whitaker the thirteenth-best second baseman of all time in The Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract. Candidates receiving less than 5% of BBWAA votes are removed from future BBWAA ballots, but may be considered by applicable committees that review candidates from different eras in baseball history. Whitaker was considered by the Modern Baseball Era Committee for the 2020 induction class, but fell short of the required 75% threshold for induction, receiving six votes from the 16-member committee (37.5%).