Among the Tigers' building blocks: a hustling shortstop

There are no stars on alan Trammell's baseball locker, no writers from Sports Illustrated requesting interviews, no urgent message to call Johnny Carson for a spot on "The Tonight Show."

Yet Trammell, a 22-year-old shortstop for the Detroit Tigers, is an artist in the field and not too bad at the plate, either. What Alan lacks is exposure.

He hasn't played in a World Series or an All-Stars game yet. But when he does, a whole nation of television viewers will get the message. And you can bet on announcer Joe Garagiola, at some point, calling him a vacuum cleaner in the field.

"This is one of the kids the Tigers are building on," explained Detroit manager Sparky Anderson. "He's a natural in the field, with the kind of hands that smother a ground ball. I mean he gets to a lot of balls that look out of range when they leave the bat.

"One thing you always look for in a shortstop is anticipation, and Trammell has great instincts," Anderson continued. "He reads the hitters real well and he makes that throw from the hole [meaning deep and over near third base] look easy. At this point there isn't a whole lot more we can teach him about fielding."

Trammell, who batted .268 with the Tigers in 1978 and .276 last year (while increasing his RBI total from 34 to 50), is basically a line-drive hitter, who bats second for Detroit.

"You know most people don't have any idea what goes with being a No. 2 hitter ," Anderson said. "They think it's just like any other spot in the batting order, only it isn't. It takes a special kind of person.

"Some guys can't handle it because of the emotional factor, which means giving yourself up in the batter's box to hit behind the runner," Sparky continued. "While he's moving the runner into scoring position by forcing the fielder to make the play to first base, he's also taking points off his batting average.

"I ask Trammell to sacrifice himself maybe 35 times a year for the good of the team, only it's not the kind of thing that usually gets written about. It doesn't show up in the box score, either, and most fans simply take it for granted. But Alan always acts like we're doing him a favor."

Anderson thinks that Trammell, who carries only 170 pounds on a 6-foot frame, is maybe three or four years away from reaching his true potential and by that time probably will be an all-star.

One of Alan's pluses, of course, is his hitting. He knows the strike zone; he usually gets a piece of everything he swings at; and he has improved his average every year he's been in the American League.

"Hitting is never easy, but getting to know the pitchers in this league and what they throw has helped me the most," Trammell said. "It's the same thing in the field. You learn the hitters and after a while they don't fool you anymore.

"I'm not a power hitter and I probably never will be," he continued. "But I expect to get heavier, and that may help my strength. Who knows? Eventually I might hit a few out. But in the meantime I know my limitations and I intend to stay within them."

Working next to Trammell in the Tigers' infield is second baseman Lou Whitaker, another of Sparky's building blocks, who also rooms with Alan when the team is on the road.

"Having Whitaker around all the time is great, because a shortstop and a second baseman, by the very nature of their jobs, should be close," Trammell explained. "We often talk about where to play the good hitters and it helps both of us. In fact, we know instinctively at what height each of us likes to be fed the ball in certain situations and that can really speed up the double play."

Trammell is also a favorite of Gates Brown, the Tigers' batting coach.

"Alan is a great kid to work with because he's never too busy to listen," Brown explained. "You know hitting, after you get the mechanics down, is mostly mental. Tell some guys that and they'll look at you like you're pulling their leg. But the smart ones, like Trammell, will go out and make it work for them."

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