ALan Trammell Detroit Tigers Sports Illistrated CoverAlan Trammell — Great Player, Great Cards

by Peter Grossmann

Biography

Alan Trammell ranks as one of the great shortstops of his generation. Born February 21, 1958, Trammell excelled in both baseball and basketball at Kearny High School in San Diego, earning all-CIF honors in both sports[1]. This was enough for Detroit Tigers to make him their second round draft pick in 1976.

Trammell’s minor league career was brief and successful, as he earned a spot on the Appalachian League (A) All Star Team in 1976[2] and Southern League (AA) MVP honors in 1977, batting .291 and hitting 19 triples in 134 games[3]. This earned him a September callup in 1977, and he became the Tigers everyday shortstop in 1978.

1980 was Trammell’s breakout season–he earned his first major league all star appearance en route to a .300 season with 107 runs scored[4]. He also collected his first Gold Glove[5]. After a pair of subpar hitting seasons, Trammell bounced back in 1983 with a .319 season, good for 4th in the AL, and he also set his career high in stolen bases (30)[6].

When the Tigers leaped out to a 35-5 start in 1984 and then cruised to a 108-54 record, Trammell figured heavily in their success. He hit .314 with 34 doubles, 14 home runs, 69 RBI, and 19 stolen bases while earning his fourth Gold Glove at shortstop[5][6]. He found an extra gear in the playoffs, hitting 4-11 (.364) in a three-game sweep of the Kansas City Royals in the ALCS[7] with a triple, a home run, 3 RBI and 2 runs scored[8]. His World Series performance earned him series MVP honors, as he hit .450 (9-20) with 2 home runs, 6 RBI, and 5 runs scored in a 4-1 defeat of the San Diego Padres[9].

Alan Trammell Detroit TigersTrammell’s finest individual season came in 1987. He finished a very close second to George Bell in the MVP voting, and many still believe he should have won the award. Serving as the Tigers cleanup hitter, he bat a career high .343 (3rd behind only Wade Boggs and Paul Molitor). He achieved noteworthy totals in numerous statistical categories, accumulating quantity and variety in combinations not often seen: 205 hits, 107 runs scored, 105 RBIs, 34 doubles, 28 home runs, and 21 stolen bases in 23 attempts. He also struck out just 47 times in 597 at bats.[10] He also developed a reputation as a clutch hitter, batting .466 in late inning pressure situations[11].

Trammell followed up this season with a stellar 1988 season, making the All Star team and finishing seventh in batting at .311[12]. In 1989 injuries limited his playing time to just 121 games and he hit just .243. Healthy in 1990, he completed his sixth .300+ season, batting .304 and again making the AL All Star Team.

After 1990, injuries and eventually age cut dramatically into Trammell’s production. He missed 60 games in 1991 and a broken foot limited him to just 29 games in 1992. In 1993, he put together one last top-flight season. Although he played in just 112 games, he hit .329 and put together solid totals for his games played (72 runs, 25 doubles, 12 HR, 60 RBI, 12 SB). From 1994-1996 he was effectively a part-time player, playing a total of 216 games in his final three seasons[13].

Trammell’s career hitting statistics are pedestrian by today’s standards, but when accounting for the era in which he played and his status as a top fielding shortstop require legitimate Hall of Fame consideration. He finished his 20 seasons as a Tiger batting .285 with 2365 career hits, 412 doubles, 185 HR, 1003 RBI, and 236 SB in 2293 games[14]. He totaled six All Star appearances (1980,1984,1985,1987,1988,1990)[15], four Gold Gloves (1980,1981,1983,1984)[5], and seven .300+ seasons. Trammell also partnered with Lou Whitaker at second base every year of his career except 1996, setting a variety of longevity records for double play tandems. It must be noted that Whitaker also compiled an impressive personal resume during this partnership, totaling 244 home runs, five All Star appearances, three Gold Gloves, and batting .276[15].

Intangibles constituted another area where Trammell excelled. In 1984 he was voted by AL managers as “Best Defensive infielder(sic) and Smartest Player (best baseball sense) by AL managers”[16]. A teammate is quoted on one of his cards as saying “‘When you’re talking about today’s great players, Alan has to be included….There isn’t anything he doesn’t do well’”[11]. Another card quotes an AL scout alluding to his clutch performance: “‘We hate to pitch to this guy with the game on the line….He’s deadly.’”[17]. He was also well regarded as having played the game the way it was supposed to be played, having always executed routine plays, and having had a very accurate throwing arm.

Trammell has not yet gained entry into the Hall of Fame. Each of his appearances on the ballot since he has become eligible has yielded him between 13 and 18 percent of the vote, far short of the 75% required for induction[18]. His case does not appear to be gaining momentum over time as some borderline candidates do, suggesting that his chances of being voted in before his eligibility expires are slim. His reputation as a great shortstop and top baseball mind, however, remain untarnished. He was chosen to manage the Detroit Tigers in 2003 after serving for three seasons as the San Diego Padres’ first base coach. After enduring a 119-loss season in 2003, the team improved to 72-90 in 2004[19]. Failure to improve again in 2005 and rumors that he was losing the clubhouse led to his firing after the 2005 season. He now serves as the bench coach for the Chicago Cubs.

Alan Trammell’s Best Baseball Cards

Alan Trammell is best known in the sports card world for his appearance along with Paul Molitor on 1978 Topps #707 in what people have long considered one of the best shots at two HOFers sharing a rookie card. This earned the card a spot in “300 Great Baseball Cards” by Mike Payne. When U.L. Washington’s statistics are also accounted for (he and Mickey Klutts appear below Molitor and Trammell on the card), ’78 Topps #707 represents over 6000 hits of production[20].

Trammell and his peers occupy a unique niche in the sports card industry as their playing days span both the era of Topps’ near monopoly on the hobby and the rise of high-end insert cards. To illustrate this, consider Trammell is one of sixteen players with pre-1981 Topps rookie cards that appear in the ’93 Finest Refractor set***.[21][22] Additionally, by virtue of their recent retirement, Trammell and his peers figure prominently in today’s burgeoning market for game-used and autograph cards of inactive players. Trammell’s minor star/semistar status in the card collecting community also means that all but his scarcest cards are affordable for virtually any collector.

For these reasons there are many great Trammell cards to choose from. Setting aside the ’78 Topps rookie and the ’93 Finest Refractor, here are some highlights

*1978 Burger King Alan Trammell #15 — By most people’s definition this a true rookie card, since it was not issued in a major set. Nonetheless, many Trammell collectors treat it as a second rookie card, and consequently it is a favorite of many. It is also very difficult to find well-centered, and no copies have received a grade of PSA 10 to date. PSA 9 copies sell for ~$150, ungraded copies in nice condition can be had for $10 or less with patience, although a “BV” type price is more like $25.

1978 Alan Trammell Burger King

*1985 Thom McAn NNO Alan Trammell — The scarcest of Trammell’s discs made by Mike Schechter and Associates (MSA). Its present value is difficult to ascertain because oddballs don’t sell for what they used to, but I have not seen one for sale in several years. The card front is the same as another disc commonly referred to as the “Subway” disc. While the Subway disc back is blank, however, the Thom McAn back says “JOX(R) by Thom McAn” on the back.

*1989 Star Company Alan Trammell Certified Autograph #1 — Hand-signed and serially numbered to 500, this card is wildly ahead of its time (there’s even a COA for it). The next numbered, signed Trammell card was released in 2000, four years after he retired. Star’s cards are now sought only by aggressive player collectors, meaning that the print run greatly exceeds demand. Thus, this card can thus be had for around $8.

*1997 Ultra Platinum Medallion Alan Trammell #64 — The stated print run of this card is “less than 200″. Judging by how often you see this card for sale (I think I’ve seen it on eBay twice in 10 years) and what it sells for ($100+), it would appear that the print run is significantly less than 200.

*2003 Donruss Timeless Treasures Alan Trammell Prime Ink #2 — The sheer length of the Trammell checklist in 2004-2005 has resulted in something of a premium on pre-2004 Trammell inserts. Of these, this card has one of the strongest combinations of eye appeal (neato brownish-red background), features (patch and autograph), and print run (#ed/50). Consistently sells on eBay for ~$40, which is more than other cards with similar traits.

*2004 Prime Cuts II Icons Signature Combos Prime Alan Trammell #3 — If you want a Trammell with all the bells and whistles of today’s high-end inserts, this is the one for you. It’s got a patch, jersey, and autograph; it comes pre-sealed in its own case, and it’s serially numbered to 3. A fair price would be $100-$125; a serious bidding war could reach $160.

*2005 Donruss Signature INKcredible Trios Alan Trammell NNO – A well-designed triple autograph, also featuring Cal Ripken and Ozzie Smith. Trammell’s card collection has a long tradition of grouping him with the other great shortstops of his era, and this card is a neat example of that. Typical final bid price for this is around $90.

These cards do a good job of representing the spectrum of Trammell cards out there. Because there is so much variety in the checklist, what card constitutes the best value is more open to debate.

Alan Trammell’s Best Value Baseball Card

1978 Topps Alan Trammell Molitor Rooke CardLet’s define “best value” somewhat loosely and subjectively as the best blend of affordable price and card appeal. Since in some people’s mind they almost constitute separate arenas of collecting, let’s perform the exercise separately for cards from 1978-1997 and for cards made after 1997.

Since there are very few Trammell cards from 1978-1997 that cost more than $10, and most of these are random rare parallels from 1995-1997, for cards produced while Trammell was an active player I believe the best value Trammell cards are in fact his best cards. A decent ’78 Topps #707 can be had raw for $15 on eBay, and in PSA 8 for around BV of $40-50; and there have been recent ‘93 Finest Refractor sales of $25 after a peak price of more like three times that. The ’78 Burger King is, in my mind, a huge value in PSA 8 (~$20) or raw; it’s hard to beat an oddball card from a rookie year. While the refractor is the scarcest, it’s also the most expensive. The Burger King “rookie” is actually the least expensive of the three, and while it is not visually stunning, its importance to Trammell collectors cannot be understated. On this basis, I’d have to say it’s the best value Trammell from his playing days.

The main reason to consider Trammell’s post-retirement cards is that, while he does have high-end inserts from the mid-90s, no major manufacturer produced a game-used or autograph card for him until 2000. In this discussion the 2000 Greats of the Game autograph must be considered–it came first, the gold borders look cool, it’s hand-signed, you can get it for $10-$15. On the other hand, it does not have a stated print run, and were it from a less important would sell for far less than it does. Trammell’s very best short-print inserts from this era sell for enough that a better *value* can be had with a higher print run and a small sacrifice in card features. A good example of this (and I’m sure there are others) is Trammell’s 2004 Donruss Timeless Treasures Material Ink Jersey Numbers #2. The card background is beautiful, the foreground has a jersey swatch and an autograph, and it’s numbered to 100. Yet with that print run, a final bid price under $10 is realistic.

***The other fifteen are Lou Whitaker, Ozzie Smith, George Brett, Paul Molitor, Andre Dawson, Rickey Henderson, Dennis Eckersley, Nolan Ryan, Eddie Murray, Carlton Fisk, Bob Welch, Dave Winfield, Charlie Hough, Mike Morgan, and Robin Yount.

References

[1]http://www.sdhoc.com/main/awards/2006som/sompresentations/Trammellspring/view?searchterm=Trammell
[2]’80 Topps #232
[3]’89 Star Gold Set #147
[4]’81 Topps #709
[5]http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_AL_Gold_Glove_Winners_at_Shortstop
[6]’85 Donruss #171
[7]http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1984_American_League_Championship_Series
[8]’89 Star Gold Set #144
[9]’89 Star Gold Set #145
[10]’90 Donruss #90
[11]’89 Score #110
[12]’89 Topps #400
[13]’97 Collector’s Choice #105
[14]’97 Upper Deck #75
[15]http://www.baseball-reference.com/w/whitalo01.shtml
[16]’86 Fleer #241
[17]’90 Score #9
[18]’05 Topps #277
[19]http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alan_Trammell#Hall_of_Fame_eligibility
[20]http://www.baseball-reference.com/w/washiu_01.shtml
[21]http://www.baseball-almanac.com/baseball_cards/baseball_cards_oneset.php?s=1993top04
[22]www.beckett.com