Baseball

Sweet Lou Whitaker Deserves Election Into Baseball Hall of Fame

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The Baseball Hall of Fame ballot was released recently, and former Detroit Tigers second-baseman Lou Whitaker has once again been left off the ballot, this time by the Contemporary Baseball Era Players Committee. This is the 22nd year in a row that the Brooklyn, New York native has been eligible for enshrinement in the hall. Whitaker will again be eligible for the Hall of Fame in 2025 when he will be 68 years old.

In his 18-year career, Whitaker won the rookie of the year in 1978 and was a five-time All-Star. The Tigers’ social media team pointed out after the announcement of the Hall of Fame ballot that Whitaker had a higher WAR (Wins Above Replacement) than a number of players already in the Hall. WAR is a statistic used to measure a player’s value in relation to a replacement-level player at his position. The reality of Whitaker’s career is that it lined up with many players using steroids, inflating their statistical numbers.

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Whitaker was half of the duo in the middle of the infield along with shortstop Alan Trammell for the Tigers. Trammell was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2018 by the Modern Baseball Era Committee. These two players made their major league debuts in 1977 and were part of the 1984 Tigers team that defeated the San Diego Padres in the World Series in five games. The 1984 Tigers won 35 of the first 40 games of their season.

At the time of his retirement, Whitaker had 2,369 hits, 244 home runs, and 1,087 RBI. This ranks sixth all-time in home runs, eighth in RBIs, and second in walks in Tigers history. Whitaker has said that he is proud of his Tigers career despite not being enshrined in Cooperstown. “I’ve never been disappointed at all, yet. 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.’”

Comparing Lou Whitaker to Other Detroit Sports Greats

Whitaker is not the first athlete to play his entire career in the city of Detroit that has been shunned from having one of the highest honors in his sport bestowed upon him. Former Detroit Red Wing Sergei Fedorov has not had his number 91 retired by the team. The main difference between these two Motor City athletes is that Fedorov was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2015. Whitaker will have his number retired by the Tigers on August 6 prior to their game against the Tampa Bay Rays. This ceremony was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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I have previously written that it is time for the Red Wings to retire the number 91. One reason for this is that every Red Wings player that has had his number retired by the team is a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame. Fedorov ranks fourth all-time in scoring in the history of the Red Wings franchise. During a press conference in 2020, Red Wings general manager Steve Yzerman said that ownership should make the decision as to whether or not to retire Fedorov’s number.

After being drafted by the Red Wings 74th overall in the 1989 NHL entry draft, Fedorov won 3 Stanley Cups, was a six-time NHL All-Star, and was one of the most offensively gifted players to play in the NHL in his 26-year career. Former head coach Scotty Bowman called Fedorov one of the most gifted players that he ever coached. So, why has Fedorov not had his number 91 hung from the rafters at Little Caesars Arena given his statistical output and the fact that he was the cornerstone of the team that would end the 42-year Stanley Cup drought in Detroit?

This may be due to the fact that Fedorov and the Red Wings had an ugly divorce after the team won the Stanley Cup in 1997-98. Fedorov signed a six-year, $38 million offer sheet with the Carolina Hurricanes. Fedorov would wind up re-signing with the Red Wings, even though he vowed never to play for the team again. This left a bad taste in the mouth of the owner at the time Mike Ilitch, but the Little Caesars owner would bite the bullet and re-sign Fedorov.

Fedorov was part of the “Russian Five” line along with Igor Larionov, Vyacheslav Kozlov, alongside defensemen Vladimir Konstantinov and Viacheslav Fetisov. He was the first of these five players to defect from the former Soviet Union and come to the United States. The Russian Five line played together for the first time on October 27, 1995. The Red Wings would win this game by a score of 3 to 0 against the Calgary Flames.

Whitaker has certainly made the case for being inducted into Cooperstown. This is despite playing his entire career in Detroit. Other than the one World Series win, the Tigers underachieved during Whitaker’s career. This is despite winning the second-most games of any team during the 1980s behind the New York Yankees. The Yankees also won one World Series during this decade. “Sweet Lou” deserves to have his career honored by being enshrined in Cooperstown.

main image credit: Embed from Getty Images

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