“Yes,” Trammell said simply to begin his speech for the retirement of Whitaker’s No. 1.
“Why yes? For four years, I’ve been uncomfortable. I’m extremely honored and grateful to have my No. 3 retired. But there wouldn’t be a No. 3 on the wall without No. 1. Today, we give Lou the love and respect that he truly deserves.”
Whitaker took the feed and delivered.
“This is one of the greatest moments of my life, just knowing my number is retired and I’ll get to see it alongside the legends in Tiger history,” Whitaker said.
Whitaker became the fourth member of the 1984 World Series champion team to be so honored, joining Trammell, Jack Morris and manager Sparky Anderson. Seven of the eight Tigers to previously have their numbers retired — plus Ty Cobb, who did not have a number when he played a century ago — have been inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, the lone exception being hometown hero Willie Horton. Much like the late Tigers owner Michael Ilitch made the decision to retire Horton’s number, his son Chris Ilitch made the call with Whitaker.
The ceremony was scheduled for 2020 before the pandemic delayed the season and led to games without fans in Comerica Park. On Saturday, the wait finally ended, and the ceremony made up for lost time.
Michigan-born actor J.K. Simmons narrated a tribute video highlighting Whitaker’s career. While Trammell, Morris and Horton joined Whitaker on the stage, several former teammates watched from the ballpark, including Dan Petry, Kirk Gibson, Larry Herndon and Dave Rozema. Others provided video tributes, including Lance Parrish, Tom Brookens and Cecil Fielder.
Whitaker thanked the Ilitch family, his teammates, his family and his hometown of Martinsville, Va. Last but not least, he thanked the fans, who serenaded him with the sounds of “LOUUUUUUUU” from the moment he took the field to the start of his speech.
“Give them your best, give them your love, give them your respect,” he said, “because they truly deserve it.”
It was an eloquent speech that kept Whitaker’s emotions intact, something he wasn’t sure he could do as he talked with reporters on Friday.
“I’ve heard some beautiful comments,” Whitaker said. “One brought tears to me talking about, ‘Lou, you’re going to have a nice crowd at the field tomorrow, and they’re coming to see you.’
“And these are their family members from past generations. They are following their parents’ footsteps. They’re following their parents, talking about Tiger history, when their parents told them about Whitaker, Trammell and the rest of the Tigers.
“So, give me some time. One day, I’ll come back, and, I don’t know, a few years or a year or next month, and I’m going to come back just to see my name, to see what it’s like. What it really feels like. But seeing it for the first time, I’m gonna be dazed. People that I used to see when I grew up, Trammell and Morris were teammates. That’s huge. Three people in the same organization being on that wall.
“Being up there with those two guys, teammates. Once I see it, it’s going to always be imprinted in the mind, you know what I mean? So, just give me some time, and I really will know what that means, but today, it’s just something that fans say, ‘Lou, you deserve this. Lou, you deserve that.’ One day I will know why.”
Whitaker’s 75.1 WAR ranks 81st on MLB’s all-time list, according to Baseball Reference, and 51st among position players. Among hitters currently eligible for the Hall of Fame, only Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez and Bill Dahlen have a higher WAR without having been inducted. Whitaker’s case has been argued by figures ranging from Trammell to baseball historian Bill James. Whitaker was one of the greatest second basemen of his era, earning five All-Star selections, four Silver Slugger Awards and three Gold Gloves. At his peak, he was one of the most recognizable faces in the game; he even made a cameo appearance on the popular TV show “Magnum P.I.” with Trammell and noted Tigers fan Tom Selleck in 1983.
Selleck’s character didn’t recognize Whitaker or Trammell, which was the gag. Hopefully, Whitaker will eventually be recognized alongside Trammell in the Hall of Fame. In the meantime, their numbers will be side by side on Comerica Park’s outfield wall for all to see.