- 2B, DH
- Sweet Lou
- May 12, 1957
- 5' 11"
- 160 lbs
- Major League Debut:
- 9-09-1977 with DET
- Allstar Selections:
- 1978 ROOK, 1983 GG, 1983 SS, 1984 GG, 1984 SS, 1985 GG, 1985 SS, 1987 SS
Soft-spoken Lou Whitaker was a gold glove second baseman who performed near the top of his position for nearly two decades, and teamed with Alan Trammell to form the longest running double play combination in history. Whitaker was a leadoff man with power, decent speed, and good pitch-selection at the plate. His arm was considered one of the best in the game and he was adept at making the pivot. "Sweet Lou" made plays look so easy he was often accused of being lackadaisical.
Louis Rodman Whitaker was born on May 12, 1957, in Brooklyn, the son of Louis Rodman Whitaker, Sr., whom he never knew. Whitaker's mother, restaurant worker M. R. Williams, took him to Virginia when he was two years old. Whitaker first played baseball in an organized youth league at age 10. At Martinsville High School, Whitaker proved a better pitcher than infielder. As an 18-year old high school senior, he was selected by the Tigers in the June 1975 amatuer draft.
Whitaker played third base for Lakeland in 1976, earning Most Valuable Player honors. The following year he was promoted to Montgomery, Alabama, where he was switched to second base to team with a shortstop from California named Alan Trammell. The two would spend the next 19 years as double play teammates. After a solid season with Montgomery, both Whitaker and Trammell made their major league debuts on September 9, 1977, in Boston's Fenway Park. Each of the rookies collected their first hits off Reggie Cleveland.
In 1978, manager Ralph Houk brought both Whitaker and Trammell north with the big league team after spring training. At the time, Houk planned to platoon the duo with middle infield incumbants Steve Dillard and Mark Wagner. By late April, both Whitaker and Trammell had won the starting jobs. Whitaker was the more polished of the two at that time. A skinny kid with good speed, Whitaker flashed exhibited brilliant defensive play and showcased a rocket arm from second base. Helped by a mediocre pitching staff which allowed plenty of baserunners, he and Trammell paced the league in double plays that year, the only time they would accomplish the feat. At season's end, Whitaker was named American League Rookie of the Year, edging Paul Molitor and Trammell. Lou hit .285 with 58 RBI and 71 runs scored. He hadn't developed the ability to pull the ball yet, and his power numbers were meager. On July 27, 1978, "Sweet Lou" belted his first major league home run. It came in dramatic fashion - with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, trailing 3-2, Whitaker hit a towering fly into the Tiger Stadium upper deck in right field to win the game. The blast came off Seattle's Enrique Romo.
In 1979, "Sweet Lou" bucked the sophomore jinx, hitting .286 with 20 stolen bases, 75 runs scored, and 78 walks, a decent total of free passes for a 22-year old. After an off-year in 1980, Whitaker started well in 1981, floating near the .300 mark in late May. But a disastrous June (.207), which included a leg injury which sidelined him for nearly three weeks, sent him into a tailspin. Despite his offensive problems, Tiger skipper Sparky Anderson inserted Whitaker into the leadoff spot in early July of 1982. The lefty-swinging Whitaker responded by hitting .313 with 11 homers and 54 runs scored in 77 games at the top of the order. For the season he hit .286 with 15 homers. Whitaker was beginning to learn to pull the ball into the short porch at Tiger Stadium. He would eventually join a select group of second basemen with more than 200 home runs.
In 1983, everything fell together for a more mature Whitaker. He played nearly every game for Detroit, collecting 206 hits for a .320 batting average. He became the first Tiger lefty to reach 200 hits in more than 45 years. With Trammell batting right behind him at the top of the order, Whitaker sparked the Tigers to 92 wins, their highest total since their 1968 World Championship team. That season, Whitaker and Trammell became the first double play duo to each bat .300 in more than 35 years. Whitaker finished third in the league in batting, and was named Tiger of the Year.
The Tigers rolled to a World Series title in 1984, winning 35 of their first 40 games. Whitaker set the table for Trammell, Kirk Gibson, and Lance Parrish, on one of the best teams of that era. Whitaker was successful at getting on base in the post-season, scoring 13 runs in his 13 career Championship Series and World Series games. In 1984, Lou set the tone for both the LCS and Fall Classic, collecting hits to leadoff each series, and scoring on hits by Trammell. In all, Whitaker reached base to lead off six of the Tigers eight post-season games in '84, scoring five times in the opening frame.
In 1985 Whitaker belted 21 homers, including one over the right field roof, to set a record for Tigers second basemen. In 1986 he was part of the first all-twenty homer infield in baseball history (with Trammell, Darrell Evans, Parrish, and Darnell Coles). As he aproached his 30th birthday, Whitaker swung for more power, which resulted in a decline in batting average. At the same time, however, he began to walk even more, and he walked more than he struck out in his career. In 1987 the Tigers returned to the post-season, as Lou set a career-high with 110 runs scored. In Game Two of the LCS against the Twins, Whitaker hit his only post-season homer, a solo-blast off Bert Blyleven in the Metrodome. The Tigers succumbed to Minnesota in five games and "Sweet Lou" never tasted post-season again.
After an injury-riddled 1988 season, Whitaker hit a career-best 28 homers in 1989, on of four times he reached the 20 plateau. That year he drove in 85 runs, the best mark of his career, as Anderson used him in the #3 spot in the order. Lou poliched his resume for Cooperstown over the final five years of his career, hitting .287 from 1991-1995, with a .386 OBP and a .478 slugging percentage. He retired following the 1995 season despite free agent offers from the Braves and Tigers. His double play partner Trammell stuck around for one more year, but the two had already set a major league record by appearing in 1,918 games together.
Whitaker played 19 seasons for the Tigers, 18 as their starting second baseman. He played in 2,390 games, collected 2,369 hits, scored 1,386 runs, and drove in 1,084. He launched 244 homers and stole 143 bases, while batting .276 with a .363 OBP. He joined Rogers Hornsby and Joe Morgan as the only second basemen to score 1,000 runs, drive in 1,000 runs, and collect 2,000 hits and 200 homers. Since his retirement, no other Tiger has worn his #1 on their jersey. Whitaker settled into retirement in Lakeland, Florida, with his wife and three daughters, keeping a low-profile. But in 2003, when his buddy Trammell was named Detroit's manager, Whitaker popped up, joining the team in spring training as a special coach.
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