During my senior year at Cass Tech High School, I stopped by the old sports bar Lindell A.C., with my girlfriend Debbie June one winter day.

Owner Jimmy Butsicaris was excited. He had a special guest he wanted me to meet.

“I want you to meet the Tigers third baseman of the future,” he said.

And I reached out and shook the hand of Lou Whitaker, a kid that looked every bit as young as I did.

“I think I am going to play second base,” Whitaker politely corrected.

Our meeting was brief, a bit awkward. He was a shy kid and I had no interest in forging an unwanted conversation.

He did not look like a Major League baseball player. On Saturday, the Tigers will celebrate Lou Whitaker Day and will officially retire his number 1 jersey. It’s a day Whitaker earned because he is one of the greatest Tigers of all time. His shyness may have led to this not being a bigger celebration. The man deserves to be in baseball’s Hall of Fame (HOF).

Back then, Whitaker looked like a guy who stepped off the sandlots of Detroit’s east side. I didn’t expect much from him until Jimmy insisted that he was the real deal and that the Tigers were very high on him.

Whitaker not only is out of the Hall, but he didn’t even get close.

In 2001, his first year of eligibility, he garnered just 2.9 percent of the votes. That erased him from future consideration by the main committee. In 2019, the Veterans Committee, which was set up to consider egregious omissions, did not vote for him in either.

His next shot at getting in will be in 2023. Wake up guys. Whitaker belongs.

He was part of the longest running and best double-play combination with Alan Trammell in baseball history. That alone would not only get him in the HOF if he played in New York or Boston. Old timers would have written songs about him.

His wins above replacement are better than 15 HOF second basemen.

Let’s examine the stats of men already in. Whitaker batted .276 with an on base percentage of .363, had 244 home runs and 1,084 RBIs and 2,369 hits.

Joe Gordon, who played for the New York Yankees, hit .268 with a .357 OBP, 253 home runs, 975 RBI, and 1,530 hits. What was the difference? Gordon played for the Yankees and carried the flashy nickname “Flash.”

Joe Morgan was flashy. Bill Mazeroski got into the Hall, but lacked the stats of Whitaker.

Whitaker never won an MVP Award, but he won three Golden Gloves and four Silver Sluggers.

What Whitaker lacked was a personality. He did not engage much with writers. He did not fill their notebooks with engaging quotes. And he often was often aloof.

As a matter of fact, he pissed me off once when I was assigned to do a story on him. I approached him before a game to ask for a few minutes of his time.

He snapped: “Lou Whitaker doesn’t do interviews before a game.”

Then I snapped back: “Terry Foster did not get the memo.”

 

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