In the second game of a double header on Sept. 9, 1977, a 20-year old second baseman and 19-year-old shortstop trotted out their positions at the edge of the infield at Fenway Park. For their team, the game had little meaning. The Tigers began the 19 games behind division-leader New York and finished it 20.5 back. Detroit was smack in the middle of a luckless streak, losing nine of 10 games on a path to eventually finishing the year 14 games under .500.
But here were two young faces making their major-league debuts after skipping straight up from Double A Montgomery: Alan Trammell at short and Lou Whitaker at second. And though their team lost the game, they flashed potential right from the start. Whitaker singled in his first at-bat, on his way to a three-hit, day. Then Trammell took his first turn at the plate, driving a single to center and scoring two batters later on a double off the bat of Whitaker.
They combined for five hits and two runs scored that day, their high water mark that year both as a pair and as individuals. Trammell finished out the season batting .186 with just a .441 OPS in 48 plate appearances. Whitaker hit .215 with .615 OPS in 37 PA.
But we all know how the rest of this story goes. For the rest of the year the pair comprised a middle infield that celebrated a World Series victory in 1984 and that many people think should have gone into Cooperstown. By the end of their careers, they'd played 1915 games together, a record for teammates.
Whitaker won the American League's Rookie of the Year Award in 1977, was named to five All-Star squads, earned four Silver Slugger awards at second based and was awarded three Gold Glove awards. He finished his career with a higher OPS+ and bWAR than fellow second baseman Ryne Sandberg, who had no trouble making it into the hall when Whitaker received just 2.9 percent of the vote in his first year of eligibility.
Trammell was a six time All-Star, four-time Gold Glove, three-time Silver Slugger and World Series MVP award winner. Many believe he should have won the 1987 AL MVP award as well. He, too, has not made the Hall, even though his WAR ranks 11th among shortstops in baseball history.
For a generation of Tigers fans, Tram and Lou might just be the most memorable players to go alongside grizzled manager Sparky Anderson. But they had to start somewhere and sometime. The where was Fenway Park, and the time was September 1977.
Some research for this post came via Detroit Athletic Co.