What a year is was for the Detroit Tigers and, more specifically, Alan Trammell, in 1987.
Remember 1987, when the Tigers played in the American League East against the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, Baltimore Orioles, Toronto Blue Jays, Cleveland Indians and yes, the Milwaukee Brewers?
Remember 1987, when each league had just two divisions, and if teams from the American and National leagues faced each other, it was either the All-Star game or the World Series?
Remember 1987, when the Tigers began the season 11-19, were 11 games out of first place in May, but managed to win 98 games and claim the AL East title on the final day of the season?
Remember 1987, when Alan Trammell's career season was overlooked and he finished second behind Toronto's George Bell for the AL MVP?
Two seasons removed from the 1984 World Series championship, the Tigers were picked to finish anywhere but first place in 1987. Coming off back-to-back third place finishes, the Tigers were dealing with the loss of catcher and clean-up hitter Lance Parrish, who signed with the Philadelphia Phillies in the offseason.
The Tigers still featured their main core from the 1984 squad, including Trammell, Lou Whitaker, Kirk Gibson, Darrell Evans, Chet Lemon, Jack Morris, Dan Petry and Willie Hernandez. Throw in newcomers Matt Nokes (32 home runs), Bill Madlock, Mike Henneman, Jeff Robinson — and later, Doyle Alexander — the Tigers surprised everyone with an incredible turnaround and finished the season with one of the best pennant chases in baseball history.
The catalyst for that team was its shortstop, Alan Trammell.
Already a three-time All-Star, four-time Gold Glove winner and World Series MVP, Trammell was asked to bat number four in the lineup after the departure of Parrish.
In the 1980s, batting clean-up was not a common occurrence for shortstops.
This was prior to the power hitting, middle infielders of the 1990s and today (the likes of Alex Rodriguez, Nomar Garciaparra, Miguel Tejada, Barry Larkin and Troy Tulowitzki). Cal Ripken Jr. hit for power in the '80s, but batted in front of Eddie Murray, so technically not in the number four spot.
So what did Trammell do in 1987?
He put together the best season of his career with a .343 batting average, 28 home runs, 105 RBI, 205 hits, .953 OPS, 155 OPS+ and a WAR (wins above replacement) of 8.2.
For comparison, Los Angeles Angels superstar and 2014 MVP Mike Trout had a WAR of 7.9. National League Cy Young and MVP Clayton Kershaw had a WAR of 8.0 in 2014. Current Detroit Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera won the 2012 and 2013 AL MVPs with WARs of 7.2 and 7.5, respectively.
Clearly, voters did not have the advantage of WAR in 1987, but it's a great comparison now of just how good Trammell was that season.
Bell, the '87 MVP, had a tremendous season with a .308 average, 47 home runs, 134 RBI, 188 hits, .975 OPS, 146 OPS+ and a WAR of 5.0, but it was not better than Trammell's season.
The deciding factor in this MVP race should have been the play of Trammell in the final month of the season.
Detroit began September with a single-game lead in the AL East. The Tigers went 17-12 that month, but on September 26th, were three and a half games behind Toronto in the division, after losing three-of-four games to the Blue Jays.
The Tigers, though, went 6-2 in their final eight games, which included a three-game sweep of Toronto the final weekend of the season, to win the division by two games. Each of the three wins against Toronto were by one run.
Trammell went 3-for-9 in the series, with four walks, two RBI and one run, including a walk-off single in game two of the series, a 12-inning, 3-2 win. Bell went 1-for-11 with three walks and two strikeouts.
From September 1st on, Trammell batted .418 (53-for-127), hit seven home runs and drove in 20 runs. He had an 18-game hitting streak, 15 multi-hit games and hit safely in 29 of 33 games. Trammell's batting average increased from .323 to .343 during that time frame.
Without Trammell, it's safe to say the Blue Jays would have won their second division title in three years. As if Trammell's entire season wasn't enough, it was the final 33 games of the season that should have pushed Trammell over the top for the 1987 MVP (Bell won with 332 to 311 votes).
Not only was it an injustice for Trammell to not be named MVP, but not having the honor seems to be a significant reason for Hall of Fame voters to exclude Trammell from their thought process.
How else can you explain voting for Barry Larkin (1995 NL MVP), but not for Trammell? The career statistics between the two are mirror images of each other. But Larkin was inducted in his third time on the ballot with 86 percent of the vote. Trammell has not received more than 36.8 percent of the vote in 14 years on the ballot.
Unfortunately, just like in 1987, Trammell is being overlooked again. This time for the biggest honor a baseball player can have — being inducted into Cooperstown.