Lou Whitaker snubbed by Hall of Fame again; Detroit Tigers great left off vet ballot

Detroit Free Press

Nearly three decades after his final game, Lou Whitaker took another swing and a miss on Monday.

The Baseball Hall of Fame released its ballot for the “Contempory Baseball Era” committee, covering players who starred in MLB from 1980 forward and the longtime Detroit Tigers second baseman was left off.

Instead, December’s committee ballot features eight players — Albert Belle, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Don Mattingly, Fred McGriff, Dale Murphy, Rafael Palmeiro, and Curt Schilling — who mostly starred after Whitaker’s prime was through. A candidate needs 75% to be elected and anyone who does will be inducted July 23, along with anyone chosen in the Baseball Writers’ Association of America vote, to be announced Jan. 24. The Hall restructured the veterans committee process last April for the third time in 12 years. There will be a contemporary-era committee vote for managers, executives and umpires in December 2023 and a classic baseball-era vote in December 2024.

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At the time of the reworking of the process, it was thought that Whitaker had a shot at being included on this December’s ballot. Whitaker played his entire career with the Tigers, debuting in 1977 and retiring after the 1995 season with a .276 batting average, 244 home runs and 1,084 RBIs over 2,390 games. He was the 1978 American League Rookie of the Year in 1978 and made five straight AL All-Star squads (1983-87) with four Silver Slugger awards (best hitter at his position) and three Gold Gloves (best fielder). Whitaker’s best season was likely 1983, when he hit .320 with 12 homers, 40 doubles and drove in 72 runs to finish eighth in AL MVP voting.

Whitaker produced 75.1 wins above replacement, according to Baseball Reference, tied with Hall of Fame catcher Johnny Bench for 82nd in MLB history. The Hall of Fame features 340 members, including 268 former MLB players. Of those 268, 20 were primarily second basemen, and Whitaker’s WAR total sits seventh among theirs, behind only Charlie Gehringer (84.8), Rod Carew (81.2), Joe Morgan (100.4), Nap Lajoie (106.9), Eddie Collins (124.4) and Rogers Hornsby (127.3).

Whitaker was also known for his steady defense over his 19-season career in Detroit. He teamed with shortstop Alan Trammell to play the most games together of any 2B/SS combo in MLB history.

Trammell was elected to the Hall by the veterans committee as part of the class of 2018 (along with fellow Tiger Jack Morris). Trammell and Morris stumped then for Whitaker’s induction to the Hall. He received just 2.9% of the vote from the BBWAA in 2001, well below the 5% threshold to carry over to another year, and fell off the ballot.

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Trammell renewed his call for Whitaker’s induction in August, when the Tigers retired the infielder’s No. 1 in a pregame ceremony: “I couldn’t be more honored to have No. 1 next to No. 3, linked together forever,” Trammell said. “And you know what’s next? The Hall of Fame.”

Whitaker has mostly remained silent on whether he deserves the Hall call, though his number retirement this year brought out some of his strongest statements on the matter.

“What am I supposed to say, now I’m up there (on Comerica Park wall), that I belong in the Hall of Fame?” Whitaker told the Free Press in August. “My friends would say, ‘Now hold up, Lou.’ As they keep crunching the numbers, that’s their job. That’s not my job. Should I say I belong in the Hall of Fame? What do you think? Should I? Shouldn’t I?

“I will wait for that day. I’m sure that day will come. I might be 99 and walking with a cane saying, ‘Finally, what took you so long?’ But that day will come.”

Instead, Whitaker will have to wait until at least December 2025 — he’ll be 68 — when the post-1980 committee is scheduled to meet again. Bonds, Clemens and Schilling are recent additions to the veterans’ ballot, as they exhausted their eligibility on the BBWAA ballot in January, passed over for the 10th straight year. Bonds received 260 of 394 votes (66%), Clemens 257 (65.2%) and Schilling 231 (58.6%). Bonds and Clemens have Hall of Fame numbers, but were accused of using performance-enhancing drugs during their later seasons. Schilling has no PED allegations, but has seen his Hall support drop (after coming within 16 votes of induction in 2021) following hateful remarks he made in retirement toward Muslims, transgender people, reporters and others. Palmeiro is one of just seven players with 3,000 hits and 500 homers (along with Tigers great Miguel Cabrera, who joined the club in April) but tested positive for PEDs a few months after testifying against their use in front of Congress in 2005.

The ballot was determined by the BBWAA’s 11-person historical overview committee: Bob Elliott (Canadian Baseball Network), Jim Henneman (formerly Baltimore Sun), Steve Hirdt (Stats Perform), Rick Hummel (St. Louis Post-Dispatch), David O’Brien (The Athletic), Jack O’Connell (BBWAA), Jim Reeves (formerly Fort Worth Star-Telegram), Tracy Ringolsby (InsideTheSeams.com), Glenn Schwarz (formerly San Francisco Chronicle), Susan Slusser (San Francisco Chronicle) and Mark Whicker (Los Angeles News Group).

Free Press sports writers Tony Garcia and Evan Petzold and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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