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Lou Whitaker
Lou Whitaker Tigers.jpg
Whitaker with the Tigers in 1987
Second baseman
Born: (1957-05-12) May 12, 1957 (age 65)
Brooklyn, New York
Batted: Left
Threw: Right
MLB debut
September 9, 1977, for the Detroit Tigers
Last MLB appearance
October 1, 1995, for the Detroit Tigers
MLB statistics
Batting average.276
Home runs244
Hits2,369
Runs batted in1,084
Teams
Career highlights and awards

Louis Rodman Whitaker Jr. (born May 12, 1957), nicknamed "Sweet Lou", is an American former professional baseball second baseman.

Whitaker spent his entire career with the Detroit Tigers. From 1977 to 1995, he appeared in 2,390 games for the Tigers, third most in franchise history behind Ty Cobb and Al Kaline. He helped the Tigers win the 1984 World Series, was selected as an American League All-Star five consecutive years (19831987) and won four Silver Slugger Awards (1983–1985, 1987) and three Gold Glove Awards (1983–1985). The Tigers retired his No. 1 jersey in August 2022.

Born in Brooklyn and raised in Virginia, Whitaker was drafted by the Detroit Tigers in 1975. He spent three years in the minor leagues and was selected in 1976 as the most valuable player in the Florida State League. He made his Major League Baseball debut in September 1977 and won the American League Rookie of the Year Award in 1978. Whitaker won the Tiger of the Year award in 1983 after hitting .320 and tallying 206 hits. He repeated as Tiger of the Year in 1989 when he hit a career-high 28 home runs.

Whitaker and shortstop Alan Trammell played beside each other for 19 seasons and are the longest-running double play combination in major-league history. Whitaker was inducted into the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame in 2000.

Early life

Whitaker was born in Brooklyn, New York City, in 1957.[1] In the late 1950s, his mother, Marion Arline Williams, moved to Martinsville, Virginia. Whitaker was raised in Martinsville by his mother and grandmother. Asked in 1979 about his father, Whitaker said, "He's never done anything for me. I don't hate him. I haven't got time to hate anybody. I just don't care to meet him. There's nothing emotionally happening between us."[2]

Whitaker attended Martinsville High School.[3] 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.[4]

Professional baseball player

Minor leagues

The Detroit Tigers selected Whitaker in the fifth round, with the 99th overall selection, of the 1975 Major League Baseball draft.[5] He signed with the Tigers rather than attend college.[4] He made his professional debut in 1975 for the Bristol Tigers of the Rookie-level Appalachian League.[6]

Whitaker was the starting third baseman in 1976 for the Lakeland Tigers of the Class A Florida State League. Whitaker batted .297, had 48 stolen bases, and 62 runs batted in, and was named the league's most valuable player.[7][8] In one game with Lakeland, he stole five bases, including three steals of home.[9] Because of his "sweet swing" with the bat, Whitaker was given the nickname "Sweet Lou" while playing for Lakeland. Lakeland manager Jim Leyland said at the time: "For a youngster he's got a lot of poise and self-assurance. He's confident of his ability to pay and nothing seems to bother him."[10]

After the 1976 season, the Tigers sent Whitaker to instructional camp to convert him into a second baseman. Whitaker said at the time: "Detroit needs a second baseman. And even though I've never played that position I'm ready to try. I've got Eddie Brinkman teaching me and he's good. I hope that I can do as well."[10] Brinkman later recalled, "Whitaker is such a natural athlete that he took to second base right away."[2]

During winter ball before the 1977 season, the Tigers also paired Whitaker with shortstop Alan Trammell. In 1977, they both played for the Montgomery Rebels of the Double-A Southern League. Whitaker and Trammell were both named to the Southern League all-star team.[11] Whitaker compiled a .280 batting average with 38 stolen bases, 58 bases on balls, and a .374 on-base percentage.[6]

Rookie of the Year

In September 1977, the Tigers called up Whitaker and Trammell.[12] Both made their major league debuts on September 9 against the Boston Red Sox. Whitaker went three-for-five with a stolen base, hit a double off the Green Monster at Fenway Park, and a run batted in against the Baltimore Orioles.[1][11] He appeared in 11 games at the end of the 1977 season, compiling a .250 batting average and .333 on-base percentage.[1]

In 1978, manager Ralph Houk started the season with Whitaker and Trammell platooning with Steve Dillard and Mark Wagner. By May, Whitaker and Trammell had established themselves as every day starters. Houk noted at the time, "Those two kids have just been great. They have played absolutely outstanding defensive ball. You saw Whitaker make a play very few second basemen in the league would have made."[13] By August, Houk was effusive in his praise: "They're the best I've ever seen for their age. On the double plays, knowing where the ball is going to be, that's something you can't teach."[14]

In his first full season, Whitaker appeared in 139 games, 123 of them as the Tigers' starting second baseman. He turned 95 double plays, scored 71 runs, stole 20 bases, and compiled a .275 batting average with a .361 on-base percentage.[1] Detroit fans also began a long tradition in 1978, chanting, "Loooooooou" when Whitaker came to the plate. Whitaker recalled that he initially thought the crowd was booing him.[2]

In November 1978, he was voted by the baseball writers as the winner of the American League Rookie of the Year Award. Whitaker received 21 of the 28 first-place votes, easily defeating Paul Molitor (three votes), Carney Lansford (two votes), Trammell (one vote), and Rich Gale (one vote). At the time, Whitaker said, "This is the biggest moment of my career. Winning the award makes me proud of myself for the things I have done."[7]

1979 to 1982

Whitaker bats at Tiger Stadium in 1981
Whitaker bats at Tiger Stadium in 1981

Whitaker had another strong season in 1979. He compiled a .286 batting average, drew 78 bases on balls (boosting his on-base percentage to .395), and stole 20 bases.[1]

In 1980, Whitaker slumped at the plate, his batting average dropping 53 points from .286 in 1979 to .233 in 1980.[1]

In the strike-shortened 1981 season, Whitaker led the American League with 109 games played. His 354 assists led the league's second basemen and ranked third among all players in the league.[1]

After hitting no more than five home runs in any of his previous seasons, Whitaker began to hit for power in 1982, tallying 15 home runs, eight triples, and a .286 batting average. He also had one of his best defensive seasons in 1982, leading the league's second basemen with 470 assists, 120 double plays turned, and a .988 fielding percentage. His 1.9 defensive wins above replacement (WAR) rating ranked fourth highest in the American League among players at all positions.[1]

All-Star in 1983

Whitaker enjoyed perhaps his finest overall season in 1983. He appeared in a career-high 161 games and compiled a .320 batting average and 206 hits, both of which were career highs and ranked third highest in the American League. He also had 40 doubles, six triples, 12 home runs, 72 runs batted in (RBI), 94 runs scored, and a .380 on-base percentage.[1] His 1983 wins above replacement (WAR) rating of 6.7 was the sixth best in the American League.[1]

He was selected for the first of five times to the American League All-Star team.[1] He was selected as a reserve and entered the game as a pinch-hitter in the seventh inning. He hit a triple that landed at the base of the 401-foot marker and collected a run batted in as Ron Kittle scored on the play.[15] At the end of the 1983 season, Whitaker won the following awards:

He also finished eighth in the voting for the American League Most Valuable Player Award.[20]

World champion in 1984

In 1984, the Tigers opened the season with a 35-5 record and went on to defeat the Kansas City Royals in the 1984 American League Championship Series and the San Diego Padres in the 1984 World Series. Whitaker was the team's leadoff hitter and starting second baseman. He appeared in 142 games at second base and compiled a .289 batting average and 13 home runs. For the second consecutive year, he was selected as an American League All-Star and won Gold Glove and Silver Slugger Awards.[1]

Whitaker hit a double and scored in the first inning of Game 1 of the World Series. He hit .278 in the Series with a .409 on-base percentage, scoring six runs in the five games.[1]

Whitaker's second daughter, Sarah, was born on October 14, 1984, the same day Detroit won the fifth and final game of the World Series.[21]

Power surge in 1985

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 was selected to play in the All-Star game for the third consecutive year, but forgot to pack his uniform. Making the 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.[22]

1986 to 1993

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.[23]

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.[24]

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.

Whitaker takes a lead off first base during a 1991 game at Cleveland Stadium
Whitaker takes a lead off first base during a 1991 game at Cleveland Stadium

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.[25]

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.[26]

Whitaker and Trammell

Whitaker and Alan Trammell played beside each other at second base and shortstop for 1,918 games over 19-major league seasons, making them the longest running double play combination in major-league history. They started playing together in an instructional league between the 1976 and 1977 seasons. They made their major-league debuts together on September 9, 1977. For the next 19 years, they formed the Tigers' keystone combination. They became associated with each other on and off the field. In December 1983, they made cameo appearances as themselves on the television show Magnum, P.I., starring Tom Selleck. Selleck's character was a Tigers fan, as is Selleck himself.[27] During the 1984 World Series, Trammell described his partnership with Whitaker:

Lou is my partner. We've got more than just a relationship. Our names are linked together now. It's like a marriage. We've become a couple. When people say, 'Trammell,' they say 'and Whitaker,' When they say 'Whitaker,' they say, 'and Trammell.' If they ever break us up, its going to be a very weird day. It'd be like getting divorced."[28]

When Trammell was inducted in 2018 into the Baseball Hall of Fame, he said: "For 19 years, Lou Whitaker and I formed the longest running double play combination in the history of baseball. I doubt that record will ever be broken. Lou, it was an honor and a pleasure to have played alongside you for all those years, and my hope is someday you'll be up here as well."[29]

Career statistics

Whitaker was an effective leadoff man, adept at drawing walks (averaging 81 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. Defensively, he recorded a .984 fielding percentage. 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).[30]

Whitaker is also one of only 19 players ever to hit a ball over the roof of Tiger Stadium.[31]

Baseball legacy and honors

Whitaker DET.png
Lou Whitaker's number 1 was retired by the Detroit Tigers in 2022.

Whitaker appeared in 2,390 games for the Detroit Tigers, third most in franchise history behind Ty Cobb and Al Kaline.[32] He also ranks fourth in major-league history with 2,308 games played at second base.[1] He remains among the Tigers' all-time leaders in double plays (first, 1,527), assists (second, 6,653), bases on balls (second, 1,197), runs scored (third, 1,386), strikeouts (third, 1,099), wins above replacement (WAR) by position players (fourth, 75.1), and defensive WAR (second, 16.2).[32]

Bill James, in The Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract, rated Whitaker as the thirteenth-best second baseman of all time .[33] Baseball writer Craig Calcaterra wrote that Whitaker was not flashy, but caught everything hit your way, effortlessly turned double plays and made strong steady throws that "defined great second base defense."[34]

In 2000, Whitaker was inducted into the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame.[35]

In December 2019, the Tigers announced that they would retire Whitaker's No. 1 jersey. However, the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in the ceremony being postponed.[36] The retirement ceremony ultimately took place in August 2022. At the time, Whitaker said: "I truly tell you, this will be one of the greatest moments of my life. Just knowing that my number will be retired and I'll get a chance to see my name on the wall with some legends from Tiger history. What a great honor."[37]

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%). He was later 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 (37.5%) from the 16-member committee.[38]

Family and later years

Whitaker married Crystal McCreary in November 1979 at Detroit's Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament. They had four daughters, Asia, Angela, Jessica, and Sarah.[2][39]

While playing with the Tigers, Whitaker was introduced to the Jehovah's Witnesses by teammate Chet Lemon.[40] After converting to the religion, Whitaker removed the Canadian and American flags from his batting helmet.[41] After retiring from baseball, Whitaker "routinely spent at least 840 hours a year" on missionary work for the church.[2]

After retiring as a player, 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.[42]

See also

References

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n "Lou Whitaker". Baseball-Reference.com. Sports Reference LLC. Retrieved August 24, 2022.
  2. ^ a b c d e John Milner (December 1, 2012). "Lou Whitaker". Society for American Baseball Research. Retrieved August 24, 2022.
  3. ^ Wulf, Steve. "Short To Second To None". Vault. Retrieved March 18, 2019.
  4. ^ a b Cara Cooper (February 25, 2016). "Hangin' with Ms. Cooper: Whittaker a home-grown all-star". Martinsville Bulletin. Retrieved March 18, 2019.
  5. ^ "1975 Baseball Draft". Baseball Almanac. Retrieved August 24, 2022.
  6. ^ a b "Lou Whitaker Minor League Statistics". Baseball-Reference.com. Sports Reference LLC. Retrieved August 24, 2022.
  7. ^ a b Brian Bragg (November 23, 1978). "Whitaker is AL Rookie of Year: Sweet Lou wins by lopsided vote". Detroit Free Press. pp. 1D, 12D – via Newspapers.com.
  8. ^ Steve Wulf (September 12, 1983). "Short to Second to None: The Keystone Kids, Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker, Keep the Detroit Tigers Purring in the AL East Race". Sports Illustrated.
  9. ^ "Future Bright For Tigers". The Ludington Daily news. October 8, 1976. p. 6 – via Newspapers.com.
  10. ^ a b "Whitaker has top season". The Daily New Leader. September 15, 1976. p. 18 – via Newspapers.com.
  11. ^ a b "Tigers Drop Doubleheader To Red Sox". Detroit Free Press. September 10, 1977. p. 7D – via Newspapers.com.
  12. ^ "Trammell, Whitaker going to parent Tigers". The Montgomery Advertiser. September 2, 1977. p. 19 – via Newspapers.com.
  13. ^ "Whitaker-Trammell Become Regulars". Petoskey News-Review. UPI. May 30, 1978. p. 17 – via Newspapers.com.
  14. ^ Tom Henderson (August 7, 1978). "Lou puts on a show that has his Tiger teammates smiling". Detroit Free Press. p. 6D – via Newspapers.com.
  15. ^ Mike Downey (July 8, 1983). "Pregame hassle not a sweet experience for Lou". Detroit Free Press. p. 3D – via Newspapers.com.
  16. ^ "Lou on all-star team". Detroit Free Press. October 19, 1983. p. 6D – via Newspapers.com.
  17. ^ "Lou is named Tiger of Year". Detroit Free Press. October 29, 1983. p. 2D – via Newspapers.com.
  18. ^ "The Sporting News Announces Silver Slugger Team". The Muncie Star. November 17, 1983. p. 32 – via Newspapers.com.
  19. ^ Bill McGraw (December 7, 1983). "Three Tigers wear Gold Gloves". Detroit Free Press. pp. 1D, 5D – via Newspapers.com.
  20. ^ "1983 Awards Voting". Baseball-Reference.com. Sport Reference LLC. Retrieved August 24, 2022.
  21. ^ "Whitaker has extra reason to celebrate". Detroit Free Press. October 15, 1984. p. 14F – via Newspapers.com.
  22. ^ Holmes, Dan (July 22, 2011). "How Lou Whitaker's Forgetfulness Landed Him in The Smithsonian". Blog.detroitathletic.com. Retrieved December 11, 2017.
  23. ^ "Top 7 performances from Detroit Tigers in All-Star Game history". MLive.com. July 14, 2015. Retrieved December 11, 2017.
  24. ^ Henry, George (September 30, 2016). "Cabrera 2 HRs, Tigers move up in playoff race, beat Braves". CBSsports.com. Retrieved October 1, 2016.
  25. ^ "4 Jul 1992, Page 5 - Detroit Free Press at". Newspapers.com. 1992-07-04. Retrieved 2022-06-05.
  26. ^ "Lou Whitaker Baseball Statistics [1975-1995]". Thebaseballcube.com. Retrieved December 11, 2017.
  27. ^ "TV with Selleck meant hard work for Lou and Alan". Detroit Free Press – via Newspapers.com.
  28. ^ Mike Downey (October 11, 1984). "His first Series brings out best in Lou Whitaker". Detroit Free Press. pp. 1D, 15D – via Newspapers.com.
  29. ^ Alan Trammell's 2018 speech on his induction into the Hall of Fame.
  30. ^ "Career Leaders & Records for WAR Position Players". Baseball Reference. Retrieved August 18, 2020.
  31. ^ Milner, John. "Lou Whitaker". Society for American Baseball Research. Retrieved 7 July 2022.
  32. ^ a b "Detroit Tigers Top 10 Career Batting Leaders". Baseball-Reference.com. Sport Reference LLC. Retrieved August 24, 2022.
  33. ^ Bill James Baseball Abstract 2001 ISBN 0-684-80697-5
  34. ^ Calcaterra, Craig (December 2, 2019). "The Hall of Fame Case for Lou Whitaker". nbcsports.com. Retrieved May 26, 2021.
  35. ^ "Louis Rodman (Lou) Whitaker". Michigan Sports Hall of Fame. Retrieved August 24, 2022.
  36. ^ Beck, Jason (December 17, 2019). "Lou Whitaker number to be retired by Tigers". MLB.com. Retrieved December 19, 2019.
  37. ^ Richard Silva (August 6, 2022). "No. 1 in your hearts: Whitaker's number retired by Tigers in pregame ceremony". The Detroit News.
  38. ^ Castrovince, Anthony (December 8, 2019). "Miller, Simmons elected to HOF on Modern Era ballot". MLB.com. Retrieved December 8, 2019.
  39. ^ Jack Ebling (November 20, 1979). "'Sweet Lou' to get married; stops off to help a charity". Lansing State Journal. p. C1 – via Newspapers.com.
  40. ^ Mike Downey (August 26, 1985). "Season Has Been a Bear for Tigers". Los Angeles Times. p. III-11 – via Newspapers.com.
  41. ^ "untitled". St. Louis Post-Dispatch. April 14, 1991. p. 3F – via Newspapers.com.
  42. ^ http://www.detroitnews.com/article/20100127/SPORTS0104/1270326/1004/SPORTS/No-Lou-Whitaker-at-Tigers-spring-training. Retrieved January 27, 2010. ((cite web)): Missing or empty |title= (help)