Lou Whitaker
Lou Whitaker Tigers.jpg
Whitaker with the Tigers in 1987
Second baseman
Born: (1957-05-12) May 12, 1957 (age 64)
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 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).

Early life

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.[1] 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.[2]

Professional playing career

Early career

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.[2] 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.[3]

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.[3] 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.

1980s

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

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.[4]

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.[5]

1990s

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.[6]

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.[7]

Summary

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.[8] 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."[8]

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).[9]

Whitaker is also one of only 19 players ever to hit a ball over the roof of Tiger Stadium.[10]

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.[11]

All-Star Games

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.[12]

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.[13]

Team records

Whitaker ranks among the Tigers' all-time leaders in many categories, including the following:[14]

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.

Legacy

After his retirement, there had 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.[15] Upon joining the Tigers in 2019, Josh Harrison chose to wear number 1 to honor Whitaker, again sparking debate over the number's status.[16] On December 17, 2019, the Tigers announced that they would retire the number on August 29, 2020. However, the COVID-19 pandemic that year resulted in the ceremony being postponed.[17][18] The team rescheduled the ceremony for August 6, 2022.

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.[19] 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%).[20] He holds the highest career WAR (Wins Above Replacement) out of all Hall of Fame candidates who received less than 5% on their first ballot.

See also

References

  1. ^ Wulf, Steve. "Short To Second To None". Vault. Retrieved March 18, 2019.
  2. ^ a b CARA COOPER Bulletin Sports Writer (February 25, 2016). "HANGIN' WITH MS. COOPER- Whittaker a home-grown all-star | Sports". martinsvillebulletin.com. Retrieved March 18, 2019.
  3. ^ a b "Short to Second to None".
  4. ^ Thomas, Steve (July 9, 2009). "Detroit Athletic Co". Blog.detroitathletic.com. Retrieved December 11, 2017.
  5. ^ Henry, George (September 30, 2016). "Cabrera 2 HRs, Tigers move up in playoff race, beat Braves". CBSsports.com. Retrieved October 1, 2016.
  6. ^ https://www.newspapers.com/image/99675527/?terms=lou%2Bwhitaker
  7. ^ "Lou Whitaker Baseball Statistics [1975-1995]". Thebaseballcube.com. Retrieved December 11, 2017.
  8. ^ a b Calcaterra, Craig (December 2, 2019). "The Hall of Fame Case for Lou Whitaker". nbcsports.com. Retrieved May 26, 2021.
  9. ^ "Career Leaders & Records for WAR Position Players". Baseball Reference. Retrieved August 18, 2020.
  10. ^ "Tiger Stadium - Detroit, MichiganTenant: Detroit Tigers (AL)Opened: April 20, 1912First night game: June 15,1948Last Tigers game: September 27, 1999Surface: BluegrassCapacity: 23,000 (1912); 30,000; (1923); 52,416 (1937)Architect: Osborn EngineeringBuilder: N/AOwner: City of DetroitCost: N/ADetroit Tigers tickets:Viewpoint Tickets - Best prices on Tigers tickets, Baseball tickets and MLB All Star tickets. Location: 2121 Trumbull Avenue, in the Corktown neighborhood of downtown Detroit. Left field (NW), Cherry Street, later Kaline Drive, and Interstate 75; third base (SW), National Avenue, later Cochrane Avenue; first base (SE), Michigan Avenue; right field (NE), Trumbull Avenue.Dimensions: Left field: 345 (1921), 340.58 (1926), 339 (1930), 367 (1931), 339 (1934) 340 (1938), 342 (1939), 340 (1942); left-center: 365 (1942); center field: 467 (1927), 455 (1930), 464 (1931), 459 (1936), 450 (1937), 440 (1938), 450 (1939), 420 (1942), 440 (1944); right-center: 370 (1942), 375 (1982), 370 (Current); right field: 370 (1921), 370.91 (1926), 372 (1930), 367 (1931), 325 (1936), 315 (1939), 325 (1942), 302 (1954), 325 (1955); backstop: 54.35 (1954), 66 (1955); foul territory: Small.Fences: All fences: 5 concrete topped by screen; left field 20 (1935), 30 (1937), 10 (1938), 12 (1940), 15 (1946), 12 (1953), 14 (1954), 12 (1955), 11 (1958), 9 (1962); center field: 9 (1940), 15 (1946), 11 (1950), 9 (1953), 14 (1954), 9 (1955); right of flag pole: 7 (1946); right field: 8 (1940), 30 (1944), 10 (1945), 20 (1950), 8 (1953), 9 (1958), 30 (1961), 9 (1962); flag pole: 125 in play (5 feet in front of fence in center field, just left of dead center). Tiger Stadium opened in 1912, the same day Boston opened Fenway Park, but baseball had been played on the site since 1896, five years before the Tigers or the American League existed. Navin Field, the original name of the park, was built on the site of old Bennett Park. It was named after owner Frank Navin, and it was renamed Briggs Stadium in 1938, two years after Walter Briggs took over the team.Briggs Stadium was renamed Tiger Stadium in 1961. The National Football League's Detroit Lions moved in for a few decades, playing two NFL championship games at Tiger Stadium before leaving in 1975 for the nearby Pontiac Silverdome.Tiger Stadium's best seats put fans as close to the action as any ballpark in the league. However, some of the lower-deck seats behind third base had their views of both the mound and home plate blocked by posts. In some of the seats, the upper deck blocked one's view of any ball hit in the air.Tiger Stadium was the playground for the likes of Lou Whitaker and Alan Trammell. Many remember Kirk Gibson homering off Goose Gossage in Game 5 of the 1984 World Series. Before that there was al Kaline patroling right field and the 1968 World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals. Of course, in the early days, the ballpark hosted the Tigers of Ty Cobb and "Wahoo" Sam Crawford.There were a few modifications over the years, including various replacements of the center-field scoreboard and a large food court called Tiger Plaza (1993). However, the features that made Tiger Stadium unique remained. For many years, only Tiger Stadium had a flagpole in play (In center field). Its bullpens were set down each line, dugout style. The right field upper deck that hung out over the front row of the lower deck was so distinctive that the Texas Rangers copied the look (Without an actual overhang) in 1994 for their new ballpark.Although plenty of home runs have ended up in Detroit's right-field upper deck, only a few have traveled over it. Some have landed in the third-deck press box, 82 feet up, and some have made it even higher, out over the third deck's 94-foot-high roof. Since the upper deck was extended to left and right field in 1938, 19 players have cleared the roof a total of 28 times. All but four of those sluggers - Harmon Killebrew in 1962, Frank Howard in 1968, Cecil Fielder in 1990 and Mark McGwire in 1997 - have hit the ball over the closer right-field roof.Tiger Stadium had a fan club whose goal was to keep baseball at the same site and in the same stadium. Members drew up their own plan for refurbishing Tiger Stadium, called the Cochrane Plan, but it was more or less ignored by the team and the city. A visit to the area around the stadium would help one understand why the team wanted to leave. Detroit is largely in ruins and about the only part of the city that looks to have any chance of thriving in the near future is the immediate downtown area.On July 24, 2001 an estimated crowd of 1,500 people attended a Great Lakes Summer Collegiate League game between the Motor City Marauders and the Lake Erie Monarchs. It was the first game played at the ballpark since the Tigers last game on September 27, 1999. Michigan & Trumbull, LLC, a local sports management company which organized the game, is seeking a short-term lease in order to bring a Frontier League franchise to Detroit to play games on nights when the Tigers are out of town. Tiger Stadium Trivia:On the same site as old Bennett Park (1896-1911) but turned around 90 degrees. First named for Tigers owner Frank Navin. Renamed by then owner Walter Briggs in 1938. Renamed Tiger Stadium in 1961. Sign above the visitors' clubhouse reads: "Visitors' Clubhouse - No Visitors Allowed." Right-field second deck overhangs the lower deck by 10 feet. Screen in right in 1944 and in 1961 required balls to be hit into the second deck to be home runs. Only double-decked bleachers in the majors; upper deck from left-center to center, lower deck from center to right-center. 125-foot-high flagpole in play in deep center, just to the left of the 440 mark - highest outfield obstacle ever in play in baseball history. The scoreboard now on the left-field fence was originally placed at the 440 mark in dead center in 1961 but was moved when Norm Cash, al Kaline, and Charlie Maxwell complained that it hindered the batters' view of the pitch. A string of spotlights is mounted under the right-field overhang to illuminate the warning track, which is shadowed from the normal light standards. Cobb's Lake was an area in front of home plate that was always soaked with water by the groundskeepers to slow down Ty Cobb's bunts. When slugging teams came to visit, Manager Ty Cobb had the groundskeepers put in temporary bleachers in the outfield so that long drives would be only ground-rule doubles. Double-decked from first to third base in winter of 1923-1924. Capacity increased in winter of 1935-36 by double-decking the right-field stands, and in the winter of 1937-1938 by double-decking both the left-field stands and the center-field bleachers. In the 1930s and 1940s there was a 315 marker on the second deck in right field. In 1942 and 1943 the center field distance was only 420 feet. The notches just left and right of dead center were closer than 420, at 405 feet. Second-to-last classic old ballpark to put in lights, in 1948 (Before Wrigley Field). Home to the Detroit Lions (NFL) until they moved into the Silverdome in 1975. Norm Cash cleared the roof four times in 13 months in 1961 and 1962, including twice in three days in July 1962. Mickey Tettleton did it twice in a week in 1991, and Mickey Mantle managed to do it three times as a visiting player. Hosted the 1971, 1951 and 1941 All-Star games. Reggie Jackson's mammoth shot in the 1971 All-Star Game hit a transformer above the roof in right. Babe Ruth hit his 700th career homer here on July 13, 1934 before there was an upper deck. The ball cleared the right-field stands and rolled several hundred feet down a street. Eight years earlier he had paid $20 to a youngster who retrieved one of his home run balls which had rolled more than 800 feet from home plate. Tiger Stadium was sold to the city of Detroit on January 1, 1978 for $1.00 and leased back for 30 years. The city received a $5 million federal grant and issued $8.5 million in bonds to pay for renovations, including replacement of the old green wooden seats with blue plastic seats. The movie "61*" was filmed here in August 2000, after the Tigers had moved to Comerica Park. For Yankee Stadium scenes, a special green paint was applied to the infield seats, and a partial third deck and 1961 Bronx skyline were added digitally in post-production. After filming, the green paint was washed off with a high-pressure water hose, revealing their original blue color. More on Tiger Stadium:Seating chart Recommended Reading (Bibliography):Tiger Stadium by Irwin J. Cohen. Corner to Copa: The last Game at Tiger Stadium and the First at Comerica Park by the Detroit Free Press. The Final Season: Fathers, Sons, and One Last Season in a Classic American Ballpark by Tom Stanton. Home Sweet Home: Memories of Tiger Stadium by the Detroit News. A Place for Summer: A Narrative History of Tiger Stadium by Richard Bak. Queen of Diamonds: The Tiger Stadium Story by Michael Betzold and Ethan Casey. Take Me Out to the Ballpark: An Illustrated Tour of Baseball Parks Past and Present by Josh Leventhal and Jessica Macmurray. The Ballpark Book: A Journey Through the Fields of Baseball Magic (Revised Edition) by Ron Smith and Kevin Belford. City Baseball Magic: Plain Talk and Uncommon Sense about Cities and Baseball Parks by Philip Bess. Diamonds: The Evolution of the Ballpark by Michael Gershman. Green Cathedrals: The Ultimate Celebration of All 273 Major League and Negro League Ballparks by Philip J. Lowry. Lost Ballparks: A Celebration of Baseball's Legendary Fields by Lawrence S. Ritter. Roadside Baseball: A Guide to Baseball Shrines Across America by Chris Epting. The Story of America's Classic Ballparks (VHS). | Detroit Historical Society".
  11. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on July 16, 2011. Retrieved January 27, 2010.((cite web)): CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  12. ^ Holmes, Dan (July 22, 2011). "How Lou Whitaker's Forgetfulness Landed Him in The Smithsonian". Blog.detroitathletic.com. Retrieved December 11, 2017.
  13. ^ "Top 7 performances from Detroit Tigers in All-Star Game history". MLive.com. July 14, 2015. Retrieved December 11, 2017.
  14. ^ Sean Forman. "Baseball Reference: Lou Whitaker". sports-reference.com. Sports Reference. Retrieved June 17, 2021.
  15. ^ "Twitter Talk: Will Jose Iglesias wear Lou Whitaker's No. 1 jersey? Will Nick Castellanos be recalled soon?". MLive.com. August 2, 2013. Retrieved December 11, 2017.
  16. ^ "Josh Harrison To Wear Lou Whitaker's No. 1 For The Tigers". 971theticket.radio.com. February 21, 2019. Retrieved March 17, 2019.
  17. ^ Beck, Jason (December 17, 2019). "Lou Whitaker number to be retired by Tigers". MLB.com. Retrieved December 19, 2019.
  18. ^ https://www.martinsvillebulletin.com/sports/baseball/detroit-tigers-announce-plans-to-retire-number-of-martinsvilles-lou-whitaker-in-2022/article_50fba316-b723-11eb-bddb-9bcd221b5882.amp.html
  19. ^ Bill James Baseball Abstract 2001 ISBN 0-684-80697-5
  20. ^ Castrovince, Anthony (December 8, 2019). "Miller, Simmons elected to HOF on Modern Era ballot". MLB.com. Retrieved December 8, 2019.