Immortalizing No. 1: ‘Sweet Lou’ excited for jersey retirement

Detroit Tigers

After a legendary 19-year career for the Detroit Tigers, in which he amassed 2,390 games played, 2,369 hits, 1,084 RBIs and 1,527 defensive double plays, Lou Whitaker is finally having his No. 1 jersey retired in Detroit.

The Tigers originally announced in 2019 that Whitaker’s number would be retired during the 2020 season, but the COVID-19 pandemic forced Whitaker to be patient again — as he had been so often on the field throughout his career — and now, the official ceremony is set for Aug. 6 at Comerica Park.

Whitaker is the ninth Tigers legend to have his number retired, joining Charlie Gehringer (2), Hank Greenberg (5), Al Kaline (6), Sparky Anderson (11), Hal Newhouser (16), Willie Horton (23), Jack Morris (47) and most recently, his longtime double-play partner Alan Trammell (3).

Whitaker said he has tremendous respect for the greatest Tigers to ever play, and he never imagined seeing his number immortalized among them.

“I sure certainly couldn’t [put into words what this means to me],” Whitaker said to Tigers Productions as part of a documentary about his career. “As I think about my years, looking up on that big wall, you see the names. I never thought about my name being up there. Now you see Trammell’s name, you see Morris’ name and I can see Whitaker’s name. [That makes me] light up.”

Whitaker played 1,918 games next to Trammell — the most of any middle-infield combination in MLB history — and Trammell said he couldn’t be happier for his good friend to join him as Tigers number retirees.

“This is a long time coming,” Trammell said to Tigers Productions. “For me, personally, I felt somewhat uncomfortable over the last few years, because it’s always been Tram and Lou, Lou and Tram. And now it’s going to be that way [at Comerica Park].”

The Tigers selected Whitaker in the fifth round of the 1975 Draft out of Martinsville High School in Martinsville, Va.

Whitaker made his MLB debut as a 20-year-old on Sept. 9, 1977, against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park, and the second baseman immediately showed a glimpse of the brilliant player he would become, earning three hits in five at-bats.

Whitaker earned an everyday role the next season and quickly became a household name, earning 1978 American League Rookie of the Year honors while leading the Tigers to their first winning season in five years.

With a breakout season in 1983, Whitaker embodied his nickname of “Sweet Lou” as he achieved career-highs in games (161), hits (206), doubles (40) and batting average (.320).

Among the deafening chants of “Louuuuu” from the adoring fans at Tiger Stadium, Whitaker became the first Tigers’ left-handed hitter in more than 40 years to earn at least 200 hits, en route to his first of five straight MLB All-Star honors and his first of four career AL Silver Slugger awards.

Whitaker also turned in an incredible defensive performance in 1983, earning a .983 fielding percentage with only 13 errors in 759 chances, winning his first of three straight AL Gold Glove Awards.

In 1984, the Tigers jumped out to an astonishing 35-5 record in their first 40 games, with Whitaker pacing the onslaught as the everyday leadoff hitter. Whitaker averaged .289 with 13 home runs and 56 RBIs in the regular season, setting the tone for Detroit to clinch a playoff berth for the first time since 1972.

Whitaker tallied five hits and scored six runs in five games against the San Diego Padres in the 1984 World Series, helping the Tigers capture their first championship since 1968.

Trammell said Whitaker was the catalyst for Detroit throughout the 1984 season and especially in the World Series, cementing Whitaker’s legacy as one of the greatest Tigers of all time.

“He was our leadoff hitter, so he set the tone,” Trammell said. “1984 was our dream year. You couldn’t have written a script any better than what we accomplished that year. It started with Lou Whitaker at the top, and he did a hell of a job.”

Whitaker continued his consistent performance for the next several years, playing at least 130 games in seven of the next eight seasons, clubbing double-digit home runs and recording at least 111 hits and 55 RBIs year after year.

Whitaker retired at the end of the 1995 season, with his final hit fittingly being a clutch, three-run walk-off homer off Mike Fetters, the same Milwaukee Brewers pitcher who would give up the final hit of Trammell’s career the next year.

Trammell said stats like that perfectly summarize the duo’s tenure together, and he said he’s thrilled to forever be linked with Whitaker in the MLB history books and in Tigers lore.

“We could lean on each other,” Trammell said. “Having a partner like we did, we did it longer than anyone else in the history of baseball, so we had that advantage, but we also had that relationship behind the scenes.”

To this day, Whitaker’s numbers have remained among the best in Tigers history.

He ranks 10th all-time among Tigers in stolen bases, ninth in RBIs, seventh in home runs, sixth in hits, fifth in doubles, fourth in at-bats and runs scored, third in games played, second in walks and defensive WAR.

Former Tigers pitcher Dan Petry played with Whitaker for 11 seasons and said he can’t wait to see his longtime teammate have his number retired.

“To have that honor bestowed upon you, that your number is up there, it’s got to be the thrill of a lifetime,” Petry said to Tigers Productions. “And I know for me, when I look up there and I see that No. 1, I can say, ‘I played with that guy. I played with greatness like that.’”

Former Tigers catcher Lance Parrish agreed.

“It brings a smile to my face to finally see Lou Whitaker get some of the recognition he deserves,” Parrish said to Tigers Productions. “One of the great things about Lou is seeing Lou’s face light up with a big smile. And I’m looking forward to seeing that happen on the day they retire his jersey.”

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