LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- A storyline at every Winter Meetings surrounds which clubs will begin rebuilding, a phase that starts with plenty of pain with the hope of euphoria to follow. At this edition of the offseason event, two attendees demonstrated an ideal rebuilding process.
Alan Trammell and Jack Morris both entered affiliated baseball as Tigers picks in the 1976 June Amateur Draft. On Monday, they were introduced together as the latest inductees of the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Both were elected by the Veterans Committee, a panel of 16 former players, managers, executives and media members. To gain entry to Cooperstown, candidates needed votes from 12 of the 16. Morris led the way with his name appearing on 14 ballots while Trammell notched 13. Both appeared as Veterans Committee candidates after 15 unsuccessful attempts via the BBWAA vote.
In the same way neither was guaranteed to punch a Hall ticket, it wasn't a given that they'd find success in the Major Leagues following the 1976 Draft. The Tigers went 57-102 in 1975 -- the worst record in baseball by five games. But under Draft rules at the time, in which American and National League clubs alternated the No. 1 overall selection, it was the Astros (64-97) that got the top pick the following year.
Detroit ended up taking left-hander Pat Underwood at No. 2 overall. (The left-hander posted a 4.43 ERA over 343 2/3 innings across four seasons with the Tigers.) Their bigger impact picks came later. The Tigers snagged Trammell, a shortstop out of Kearny High School in San Diego, in the second round with the 26th overall selection. Seventy-two picks later, they took Morris in the fifth round as a 21-year-old right-hander out of Brigham Young University. Detroit also took future Hall of Fame shortstop Ozzie Smith in the seventh round but could not sign him -- a fact that allowed Trammell to form one of the game's greatest double-play combinations with Lou Whitaker.
No matter their Draft status, the Tigers needed Trammell and Morris to be successful if the rebuild was going to work, and the players themselves knew it.
"The one thing I will say, we all have chances and opportunities," Morris said. "We were on the quick path to the big leagues because of a rather poor team at the time and a rebuilding stage. But we had to take advantage of our chances. We were lucky enough to be able to do that. Then, it all started to blossom."
Neither spent much time in the Minor Leagues. Morris pitched 36 innings for Double-A Montgomery in his Draft year, walking 36 batters and striking out only 18 in that span, and 135 frames for Triple-A Evansville during the 1977 campaign before making his Major League debut on July 26. He wasn't a full-time member of the Tigers rotation until 1979 and didn't make his first All-Star team until 1981.
It was a slightly shorter road to success for Trammell, despite the age difference. He hit .245/.354/.276 with only four extra-base hits in 62 games between Rookie-level Bristol and Double-A Montgomery in 1976 and was sent back to the higher level the following season. He hit .291/.365/.414 with three homers in 134 games with the Rebels the following season and still made it to the Majors as a 19-year-old on Sept. 9, 1977, mostly because of his glove.
"I signed at 160, 165 pounds," Trammell said. "I was not ready. I could play defense. That's the one thing I will say I could initially do, and that sent me to the big leagues. But like [Sparky Anderson] used to say, he used to tick me off. He said, 'You look like you're hitting with a wet newspaper.' That was the kind of driving force that would get behind me. I used to hit ninth. I didn't like hitting ninth, but that's where I deserved to hit. So I improved, I got better."
Because of his defensive work and significant playing time, Trammell finished fourth in the AL Rookie of the Year voting in 1978, losing out to the man to his left in Whitaker. That year also proved to be the Tigers' first winning season since 1973, and after years of struggle, the Detroit rebuild was starting to bear fruit.
"They were doing a really good job," Trammell said. "And they needed to do a really good job because we weren't very good. That was the start of this nucleus. The timing, as I mentioned, what that does is allows you to [be in a spot where] we did well enough for them to advance us. If we were in an organization that was winning at the Major League level, they wouldn't rush us like they did."
In 1984, the Tigers had formed one of the best clubs in Major League history, going 104-58 during the regular season and beating the Padres in five games during the World Series. Trammell was named World Series MVP, and Morris won both of his starts with while posting a 2.00 ERA and 0.89 WHIP.
Trammell retired after the 1996 season with 2,365 career hits, six All-Star selections, four Gold Gloves and three Silver Slugger awards over 20 Major League seasons, all in Detroit. Morris was with the Tigers through the 1990 campaign before winning World Series with the Twins in 1991 and Blue Jays in 1992 and retiring after 1994 with the Indians. He finished with 254 career wins, a 3.90 career ERA and five All-Star appearances.
It may have taken time to raise a banner in the Motor City, but given how both the organization and their individual careers ended up, both Hall of Famers were happy to reach the Majors quickly.
"I stunk. He stunk. We all stunk," Morris said. "But after you keep at it and if you've got any heart at all, you look across the field and say, 'Why are these guys whooping on us? We're tired of this. We've got to get better.' We did. We got better, and pretty soon, we could look across that field and say, 'We're as good as you, and now we've got to prove it.' Then 1984 shows up, and we prove it. A lot of pride there in that part of it. I think luck has a lot to do with it. Timing, obviously, and having the right people to guide us in the right direction."
"I probably didn't deserve it," Trammell said of his Major League debut as a teenager, "but I'm not complaining."