Detroit — The question was posed to Lou Whitaker Friday night:
Does this honor the Tigers are bestowing on you Saturday, immortalizing you by putting your number on the bricks at Comerica Park right next to your old double-play partner Alan Trammell, help mitigate any lingering disappointment from not being enshrined at Cooperstown?
“I’ve never been disappointed at all, yet,” he said, smiling. “Things happen. Sometimes just be patient. I haven’t been mad. I may have thought about it a time or two. But I’ve never thought about it like, ‘I belong there. I belong there.’
“I’ve never said that to myself.”
The thing is, at this stage of his life, 65 years old, 27 years removed from the game, getting this long-awaited acknowledgment from the Tigers, the only organization he’s ever played for — having a day in his honor, Sweet Lou-lapalooza, and getting his number up on the bricks — that’s about as much as he can take for right now.
“It means a lot,” he said. “Just in the sense that I stayed here. I gave my best…I am proud. I’ve heard some beautiful comments. One brought tears to me. Talked about, ‘Lou, you’re going to have a nice crowd at the field (on Saturday) and they’re coming to see you.’
“Wow. People are coming to see me. And these are family members from past generations that have followed in their parents’ footsteps. Their parents told them about Tram and Whitaker and the rest. They’re still doing ‘Louuuu.’ They don’t know anything about that (laughs).”
His Hall of Fame credentials are now in the hands of the veteran’s committee. There’s nothing he can do but wait on that.
“I do sometimes think about different players that are in there,” he said. “We used to beat those guys. They’re in the Hall of Fame but my team used to win a lot more than they did. Just looking at it that way. But I always try to keep myself balanced.
“I haven’t got there yet but people are still hoping and wishing. I’ve always left it to the fans. I can’t control who votes. If they don’t like me for whatever reason, you don’t have to vote for me. Maybe you liked me and still didn’t vote for me. What can you say?
Whitaker played 19 seasons for the Tigers, all 19 alongside Trammell, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2018 with another of Whitaker’s teammates on the 1984 World Series championship team, Jack Morris.
Whitaker won American League Rookie of the Year honors in 1978. He was a five-time All-Star, a three-time Gold Glove winner at second base and a four-time Silver Slugger winner. He talked Friday about what it meant to play his entire career in Detroit.
“I didn’t make that much money,” he said. “Maybe I could’ve made more money someplace else. But I was happy here. I was playing a game that I loved. Who knows what would happen if I went to another team?
“I seen guys to other teams and fail and then were out of baseball. Like Kirby Puckett said, the grass isn’t always greener on the other side.”
Whitaker said later in his career the Braves, Yankees and Athletics came after him.
“I was happy I stayed here,” he said. “The Braves offered me two years. The Tigers offered me three years. I chose the Tigers. I was just happy in Detroit.”
Which is why Saturday means so much to him. The only other player immortalized on the bricks who is not in the Hall of Fame is Willie Horton.
“He grew up in the city, he’s home grown,” Whitaker said. “I didn’t grow up in Michigan.”
Now a part of him will be part of this city forever.
“One day I will come back,” he said. “Maybe a year from now, maybe next month. I might come back to see if my name is still in lights (laughs). Seeing it for the first time, I’m going to be dazed. Like, wow. Up there with people I used to see when I was growing up, when I was playing and now we’re up there, too — me and Tram and Morris. That’s huge.
“Once I see it, it’s always going to be imprinted on my mind. Just give me some time and I will really know what that means. Fans say, ‘Lou, you deserve this. Lou, you deserve that.’ One day I will know why.”
Whitaker isn’t stressing the Hall of Fame induction. He’s not giving up on getting it, either.
“What am I supposed to say, now that I’m up on that wall I belong in the Hall of Fame?” he said. “My friends would say, ‘Now hold up, Lou.’ They’ll keep crunching the numbers. That’s their job. Should I say I belong in the Hall of Fame? What do you think? Should I? Shouldn’t I?
“But, humility. I’ll let that rest. I will leave that there. I will wait for that day. I am sure it will come. Might be 99 and walking with a cane saying, ‘Finally. What took you so long.’ But that day will come.”