Whitaker bats at Tiger Stadium in 1981
|Born: May 12, 1957|
Brooklyn, New York
|September 9, 1977, for the Detroit Tigers|
|Last MLB appearance|
|October 1, 1995, for the Detroit Tigers|
|Runs batted in||1,084|
|Career highlights and awards|
Louis Rodman Whitaker Jr. (born May 12, 1957), nicknamed "Sweet Lou", is an American professional baseball second baseman who played for the Detroit Tigers of Major League Baseball (MLB) from 1977 to 1995. He won the American League Rookie of the Year Award in 1978, and was a five-time MLB All-Star in his career. He won four Silver Slugger Awards and three Gold Glove Awards. Along with teammate Alan Trammell, Whitaker was part of the longest running double play combination in MLB history.
Whitaker was born in Brooklyn, New York City. When he was one year old, his mother, who was pregnant with his sister, Matilda, moved with Lou to Martinsville, Virginia, to live with her family. Whitaker attended Martinsville High School. He played for the school's baseball team as a middle infielder and pitcher. Whitaker graduated in 1975, and committed to play college baseball for Ferrum College.
Professional playing career
The Detroit Tigers selected Whitaker in the fifth round, with the 99th overall selection, of the 1975 MLB draft. He signed with the Tigers rather than attend college. He made his professional debut that year for the Bristol Tigers of the Rookie-level Appalachian League. He played for the Lakeland Tigers of the Class A Florida State League in 1976. He batted .297 and was named the league's most valuable player.
After the 1976 season, the Tigers assigned Whitaker to the Arizona Instructional League, where they converted him into a second baseman and paired him with shortstop Alan Trammell. In 1977, they both played for the Montgomery Rebels of the Double-A Southern League. Whitaker batted .280 for the Rebels. The two were both promoted to the major leagues late in the 1977 season. Both players became starters by the end of April 1978. They would remain teammates until Whitaker retired in 1995. Trammell and Whitaker also made a cameo appearance together on the television show Magnum, P.I. starring Tom Selleck, as themselves, during the 1983 season.
Whitaker enjoyed a strong season in 1983, hitting for a .320 average with 12 home runs, 72 runs batted in (RBI), and 94 runs. That year he made the first of five consecutive All-Star appearances. In 1984, Whitaker and the Tigers won the World Series. The day Detroit clinched the Series, the second eldest of Whitaker's four daughters was born.
In 1985, Whitaker set a record for Detroit second basemen with 21 home runs and, in 1986, was a member of a Tigers infield in which every member hit at least twenty home runs. He hit a career-best 28 homers in 1989, one of four times he reached the 20-HR plateau, upping his record for the most homers in a season by a Tiger second baseman. Whitaker now shares the season record with Ian Kinsler, who hit 28 homers in 2016 as the Tigers regular second baseman.
Whitaker reached three career milestones in 1992, recording his 2,000th game, 2,000th hit, and his 200th home run.
Along with his American League contemporaries Frank White and Willie Randolph, Whitaker set the standard for defensive play at his position throughout the 1980s. Whitaker is also only one of a select handful of players ever to hit a ball over the roof of Tiger Stadium.
Whitaker was an effective leadoff man, adept at drawing walks (averaging 81 BB per 162 games), quick on the bases, and able to drive the ball with power to all fields. In his 19-year career, Whitaker batted .276 with 244 home runs, 1,084 RBI, 1,386 runs, 2,369 hits, 420 doubles, 65 triples, and 143 stolen bases in 2,390 games. He also recorded a 1.089 walk-to-strikeout ratio. He retired following the 1995 season. Whitaker is unique among long-career players in that he had the highest OPS of his career in his final season, .890 in 1995. Equally unique, Whitaker's OPS actually improved in each of his three final seasons.
After retirement, Whitaker became an instructor for the Tigers during their spring training sessions in Lakeland, Florida, where he helped coaching hitters through the 2009 season. He and the Tigers parted ways in 2010 by mutual agreement.
In the 1985 All-Star Game, Whitaker forgot to pack his uniform. Making this discovery just before the game, he had to make do with replica merchandise available for purchase at the park. He obtained an adjustable mesh hat and a blank jersey. He finished off his outfit by scrawling his number on the back in magic marker (or, by some accounts, having a fan do so for him). The Smithsonian requested the jersey and it remains a part of their collection.
During the 1986 All-Star Game, Whitaker was one of the five players struck out consecutively by National League pitcher Fernando Valenzuela, tying Carl Hubbell's mark. Whitaker also homered in the game, a two-run homer in a game the American League won 3-2.
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Whitaker ranks among the Tigers' all-time leaders in many categories, including the following:
- 1,099 strikeouts #2 in franchise history.
- 1,527 double plays #1 in franchise history.
- 1,197 bases on balls #2 in franchise history.
- 6,653 assists #2 in franchise history.
- 2,390 games played #3 in franchise history.
- 143 times grounded into a double play #3 in franchise history.
- 11,613 total chances #4 in franchise history
- 1,386 runs scored #4 in franchise history
- 75 time caught stealing #4 in franchise history.
- 412 doubles #5 in franchise history.
- 3,651 total bases #5 in franchise history.
- 2,369 hits #6 in franchise history.
- 244 home runs #6 in franchise history.
- 729 extra base hits #6 in franchise history.
- 1,084 RBIs #8 in franchise history.
- 189 errors #10 in franchise history
- 143 stolen bases #10 in franchise history.
Although the team has not officially retired Whitaker's jersey, there has been some debate among fans on social media outlets and on sports-talk radio when it was announced in August 2013 that newly acquired infielder José Iglesias would take over the number. Iglesias was the first player to wear jersey #1 since Whitaker's retirement in 1995. The calls to retire the number have resurfaced with the Hall of Fame selection of Trammell.
Whitaker was declared ineligible for election into the Baseball Hall of Fame by the Baseball Writers' Association of America when he did not receive the required five percent of the votes in his first year of eligibility (in 2001). Despite having statistics comparable to other second basemen in the Hall of Fame (including contemporary Ryne Sandberg, a third-year inductee), Whitaker was dismissed from the ballot after receiving only fifteen votes, or 2.9%. This surprised many observers, including Bill James, who named Whitaker the thirteenth-best second baseman of all time in The Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract. Whitaker (and other players who played during the "Today's Game" era of 1988 to the present) could've been considered by the Veterans Committee in 2018, but he was not one of the ten that made the ballot. (His old Detroit teammates, Trammell and Jack Morris, did make the ballot and both were elected.) The "Today's Game" electors will meet again in 2021 and 2023.
- List of Major League Baseball career home run leaders
- List of Gold Glove middle infield duos
- List of Major League Baseball career hits leaders
- List of Major League Baseball career doubles leaders
- List of Major League Baseball career runs scored leaders
- List of Major League Baseball career runs batted in leaders
- List of Major League Baseball players who spent their entire career with one franchise
- Wulf, Steve. "Short To Second To None". Vault. Retrieved March 18, 2019.
- By CARA COOPER Bulletin Sports Writer (February 25, 2016). "HANGIN' WITH MS. COOPER- Whittaker a home-grown all-star | Sports". martinsvillebulletin.com. Retrieved March 18, 2019.
- Thomas, Steve (July 9, 2009). "Detroit Athletic Co". Blog.detroitathletic.com. Retrieved December 11, 2017.
- Henry, George (September 30, 2016). "Cabrera 2 HRs, Tigers move up in playoff race, beat Braves". CBSsports.com. Retrieved October 1, 2016.
- "Lou Whitaker Baseball Statistics [1975-1995]". Thebaseballcube.com. Retrieved December 11, 2017.
- "Archived copy". Archived from the original on July 16, 2011. Retrieved January 27, 2010.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
- Holmes, Dan (July 22, 2011). "How Lou Whitaker's Forgetfulness Landed Him in The Smithsonian". Blog.detroitathletic.com. Retrieved December 11, 2017.
- "Top 7 performances from Detroit Tigers in All-Star Game history". MLive.com. July 14, 2015. Retrieved December 11, 2017.
- "Twitter Talk: Will Jose Iglesias wear Lou Whitaker's No. 1 jersey? Will Nick Castellanos be recalled soon?". MLive.com. Retrieved December 11, 2017.
- "Josh Harrison To Wear Lou Whitaker's No. 1 For The Tigers". 971theticket.radio.com. February 21, 2019. Retrieved March 17, 2019.
- Bill James Baseball Abstract 2001 ISBN 0-684-80697-5