Trammell, grass, and the Hall of Fame

This year’s induction class for the Baseball Hall of Fame will be announced on Tuesday. And once again Alan Trammell will be on the outside looking in despite some compelling arguments that he should be in. I won’t make a case for him because quite frankly I’m fully aware of my bias. He was one of my favorite players growing up (behind only Lou Whitaker who was royally shafted) and so it’s probably best if more objective parties make their cases for Tram’s inclusion.

But I do want to briefly tackle one issue that Trammell dissenters have cited. And really it’s an argument that I’ve only seen from Joe Sheehan. Sheehan dismissed Trammell’s defense saying that he was helped by the notoriously long grass at Tiger Stadium. That’s premium content so I’ll just quote the most germane part of the article here for you:

I’m wary of the defensive numbers on him, as his home park was notorious for its high infield grass. With so much of Trammell’s statistical case built on very good defensive stats at his peak, the twinge of doubt I feel about their validity makes me nervous.

And to paint a fair picture, this was only of several reasons that Sheehan listed for doubting Trammell’s candidacy so this isn’t a make-or-break argument. It sounded reasonable enough to me that I didn’t think twice about this argument.

Rob Neyer called for further investigation of the point. Neyer stated:

Two, while I’m intrigued by the notion that Trammell’s solid defensive credentials — he won four Gold Gloves, and Bill James has him as a Grade B-minus shortstop over his entire career — are partly the result of the high grass in the Tiger Stadium infield, I’d sure like to see somebody do some actual work on this one. Yes, sinkerballer Walt Terrell’s home/road splits were massive when he pitched for the Tigers, particularly from 1985 through ’87. But did other sinkerball pitchers fare particularly well in Tiger Stadium during Trammell’s career? Were Trammell’s fielding stats significantly better at home than on the road? If the grass was long and did lead to more plays for Trammell, did it cost him anything as a hitter?

Inspired by Neyer I decided to at least take a very crude look at what effect the grass had on ground ball hit rates. This isn’t exactly answering Neyer’s question or refuting Sheehan’s claim, but at least it is another data point. My methodology was to look at all groundballs hit, and see at what rate they produced baserunners. I then converted those rates to park factors.

The park factors are over 7 seasons – from 1982-1988. Why those years? It was two fold. First, it corresponded reasonably well with the peak of Trammell’s career. Second, there was no change over in ballparks during that time making the analysis a little more convenient.

Here is the table with my results:

Team	PF
MIN	1.33
KCA	1.27
BOS	1.25
MON	1.21
DET	1.20
TEX	1.18
ATL	1.15
PHI	1.13
LAN	1.12
CHN	1.03
CIN	1.03
SDN	1.01
NYN	1.00
PIT	0.99
SLN	0.94
MIL	0.94
CHA	0.94
TOR	0.93
SEA	0.90
OAK	0.88
CAL	0.85
CLE	0.82
BAL	0.81
NYA	0.77
SFN	0.72
HOU	0.65

The higher values indicate parks where more grounders resulted in baserunners, and conversely the lower numbers would make the parks more favorable to the defenders. Tiger Stadium was one of the parks where more grounders resulted in baserunners – over 20% more – which would make Trammell’s defense more impressive, not less. Of course the same adjustment would have to be applied to Tram’s offense which could make his offensive numbers less impressive.

Explanations for this? Maybe the long grass slowed down balls too much meaning there were more infield hits. Perhaps the long grass, or bad infield dirt, led to more bad hops meaning more difficult plays or more errors. Or perhaps the grass wasn’t as long as it was reported, much like the 440ft dimension painted on the centerfield wall.

Caveats: I didn’t break it out and look at the impact by position. It could be that this is all the result of things being favorable down the lines. I don’t know. If Dan Fox continues working backward with SFR perhaps these types of issues can be uncovered. I have the data to do it, but the chances of me finishing it prior to Tuesday are slim. Maybe another day. Also, the Tigers had a great deal of stability at the time with their up the middle defenders meaning they are a large part of the sample. There was no regression or accounting for this – just straight arithmetic.

Still at a first glance it doesn’t appear that the long grass made the infielder’s jobs any easier at Tiger Stadium.

But this is all a moot point when it comes to Tram’s chances anyways. Tram has been hovering in the teens since being on the ballot and actually saw his numbers at their lowest in 2007 when he only had 13.4% of the vote. My hope was that with a weak ballot he could have maybe gained some steam and broken the 30% mark. However, Keith Law’s unofficial tally has him improving, but only to 22%.

I don’t view Tram’s exclusion as an egregious error. Even being a fan I don’t think it is a slam dunk case. Still, I don’t understand the voting disparity between Ozzie Smith and Trammell when you look at their entire body of work. That to me is the bigger injustice.

The information used here was obtained free of charge from and is copyrighted by Retrosheet. Interested parties may contact Retrosheet at 20 Sunset Rd., Newark, DE 19711.


  1. Rings

    January 4, 2008 at 2:14 pm

    Thank you, Bilfer, for what has long been one of my peeves: If Smith is in, you have to consider – and probably induct – Alan Trammell. Even Barry Larkin has a strong case.

    Ozzie’s biggest attributes are his Gold Gloves and All Star nods, but a quick parusal of his “competition” during his run of (voted) awards, for which he’s given so much credit, includes the likes of Gary Templeton, Walt Weiss, Shawn Dunston, young Barry Larken, etc. In other words, it wasn’t a fair fight and he would not have been voted nearly as many awards had he been in the AL vs. Ripken, Trammell, Washington, Yount, etc.
    More to the point of your post, Ozzie Smith also benefitted in fielding percentage from playing on turf, where you rarely get “bad hops.” In fact, the long grass point regarding Trammell should be more in his favor in that the natural playing surface is more likely to result in errors. As it is, these two retired #1 and #2 in fielding percentage, separated by .001. Ozzie dove for balls and did backflips. Tram, like Ripken, positioned himself properly before the pitch and made the fundamental plays.

    Overall Stat Comparison:

    Ozzie Smith:
    19yrs. 1 World Series win.
    FP-.978 (on turf). H-2460. HR-28. RBI-798. SB-580. AVG-.262. OPS-.665 (his SLG is lower than OBP). Hit .300+ once. Recieved MVP votes 5 times, finished 2nd in ’87. 1985 NLCS MVP. 13 Gold Gloves/15 All Star (competition was the likes of Shawn Dunston).

    Alan Trammell:
    20yrs. 1 World Series win.
    FP-.977 (on grass). H-2365. HR-185. RBI-1003. SB-236. AVG-.285. OPS-.767. Hit .300+ seven times. Received MVP votes 7 times, finished 2nd (robbed) in ’87. 1984 WS MVP. 4 Gold Gloves/6 All Star (competition was Ripken, Yount).

    Barry Larkin.
    19yrs. 1 World Series win (1990).
    FP-.975 (on turf). H-2340. HR-198. RBI-960. SB-379. AVG-.295. OPS-.815. Hit .300+ nine times. Recieved MVP votes 6 times, finished 1st in ’95. 3 Gold Gloves/12 All Star. He also has 9 silver sluggers and his postseason batting average was .338.

    Smith couldn’t hold Trammell’s jock.
    The only stat he’s better on is SB…and “voting categories” like GG & AS, where Smith faced no competition…oh, and backflips. All other categories are virtually even (H, FP) or Trammell kills him (HR, RBI, OPS, AVG).
    Smith gets the benefit of being a media friendly guy in a large baseball market city. Tram, and most of the ’84 Tigers, are ignored for having played in a smaller media city and because they were quiet stars.

  2. Kyle J

    January 4, 2008 at 2:35 pm

    I think you really have to view Smith as a special case–inducted on the strength of his spectacular plays in the field and charsima, rather than the entirety of his career performance.

    The only hope for Trammell is that there’s a such a backlash against the inflated numbers of the last decade and a half that voters go out of their way to reward players from the previous era. But I doubt the backlash will go that far.

    Also, in a perverse way, it’s kind of cool that the 1984 Tigers are the only WS champ (other than the 1981 strike year) not to have a Hall of Famer on the roster.

  3. Vince in MN

    January 4, 2008 at 3:23 pm

    I can see the headline now: “Alan Trammell Denied Entry Into Hall Because of Grass.”

    And as for current HOF members, for example, what about all those 310-ft homers the Babe hit in Yankee Stadium? And it was his house too – he built it, OK! Isn’t that a little “unfair?” Makes me “nervous” just thinking about it. Can’t imagine how Joe Sheehan feels. Anyway, I say get Ruth out of there. In fact, any player who played in a park completely different from all other parks should be kicked out.

    This is trouble with baseball – it is too asymetrical. I hope the braniacs who vote for HOF can put their heads together and solve this serious issue soon.

  4. ez

    January 4, 2008 at 6:28 pm


    Very interesting post. We agree totally on this one. Well done.


    Man, well said. Trammell toiled in the early years of his career under the shadow of Yount, then during his peak years under the immense shadow of Ripkin. Smith had no such contemporaries. Further, I agree completely Smith benefited by playing on the always predictiable hops of astroturf.

    However, taking your point further, Smith also benefited at the plate from the abomination that is astroturf. His ‘slap the ball and leg it out’ style would never have given him what meager offensive stats he did have were it not for the 50 foot choppers he routinely beat into the turf… Take that hitting approach in the AL East in the 80’s and your selling flapjacks at Wafflehouse in a matter of years.

    Once he was elected every picture I saw on the cover of news rags showed one of him back flipping. Every one. That isn’t baseball.

    Put him in the circus HOF, because he did not warrent election was my old feeling…

    Now that has changed a bit. Because of the steroid era, I am inclined to have Smith in.

    But my real point is that if Trammell isn’t in, then Smith shouldn’t be either. Trammell hands down was the better player.

    In a playoff series, where it really matters most any manager of that era not named Herzog would take Tram in a second over Smith.

  5. ez

    January 4, 2008 at 6:31 pm

    One final point. There is almost no use debating this….

    My proof?

    People of the ilk of Rob Parker are the voters.

    That thought is truly sickening.

  6. Mike R

    January 4, 2008 at 7:14 pm

    Not going to lie, I’m 21 years old so I don’t have a big attachment to Alan Trammel. I think he’s a borderline HOFer. It’s okay if he gets in, okay if he doesn’t.

  7. Lee Panas

    January 5, 2008 at 6:22 am

    Great use of retrosheet Bill. As you mentioned, this is a crude analysis and I would especially be concerned about Whitaker and Trammell being a lage part of the sample. It’s a nice starting point for further analyses though. I’ve heard the long grass argument several times and have always wondered whether it could be a disadvatage in some ways – more infield hits and fewer double plays for example.


  8. BobS.

    January 5, 2008 at 10:25 am

    Glad to see Barry Larkin mentioned.Truly one of the overlooked ‘almost’ superstars in baseball history.Similarly,even given his outstanding defensive play,Ozzie Smith is among the most overrated-the Saint Derek Jeter of his day.
    My argument for the inclusion of Trammel (and Larkin,and Whitaker) would be the inclusion of Phil Rizzuto,Lou Boudreau,and Bill Mazeroski.Those three have lowered the bar for position players,even by the ‘relaxed’ standards of middle infielders.
    Mazeroski’s inclusion even makes it hard to deny entry to Frank White,a somewhat anemic hitter (like Mazeroski),who (also like Mazeroski) was the premier defensive second baseman of his generation.
    It is hard to stomach the thought of Rob Parker having a Hall of Fame vote .There’s a half dozen commenters of this blog (hell,on this thread) whose knowledge of baseball is superior to Parker’s.

  9. Rings

    January 5, 2008 at 11:45 am

    Well said, BobS.
    Truth be told, the standards have been “lowered” for the Hall of Fame since the initial class was inducted and this is the problem with much of the current controversies regarding who is “most favored” by the media voters and who not. The fact is, if the standards include the examples below, then it has to include or at least consider some of the others:

    If Bruce Sutter, then why not Quisenberry and Lee Smith? Or Morris and Blyleven?
    If Mazeroski, Rizzuto and Ryne Sandberg, then why not Whittaker or even Bobby Grich?
    If Gary Carter, then why not Parrish (at least consideration), Mattingly, Torre or Santo?
    If Ozzie Smith, then why not Trammell, Larkin, Omar Visquel (!!), or Frank White (the latter of whom were both great defense guys w/o backflips)?

    The more of these double-standards that exist, the less relevant the Hall becomes, much as All Star nominations or Gold Gloves have become, to any thinking fan.

  10. ez

    January 5, 2008 at 11:57 am

    Bob S,

    Thanks for the compliment. You, sir, are also very well knowledged…

    I really liked and agree with your thoughts on Mazeroski. Another player of this type is Gary Carter. He has no business being in the HOF. Since he is it is a tragedy that Ted Simmons isn’t in, and never will be in… Ted was a better player than Carter in my opinion (the stats are nearly identical). Carter is in because of one WS and the market he played that Series in. Behold the power of the New York market.

    Smith and Trammell are bubble inductees. Same with Carter and Simmons. Either both in or both out. Since one is, the other ought to be as well.

    Given the steroid 90’s I am more inclined to let them all in. I wrote that earlier… but to expand a bit….

    Sports writers may catch up to that notion. But once again even when they are trying to be right, they are wrong. Players from the 80’s who were eligible in the 90’s were denied entry in part because in the 90’s the steroid players were producing phenominal numbers and were going to clearly out produce the players of the 80’s. So the writers didn’t elect them.

    I predict that the steroid issue will sting the eligible players of the 90’s and the media will show their disdain for that period by groundswelling and puting in those players of the 80’s that should have been there in the first place! This is nothing more than electing one group as means of punishing another AFTER the fist group was punished for the numbers being put up at the time of the second group. Election by punishment. Nice concept, fellas.

    I really detest the media for this. Their selfrightous blather and ability to whitewash their own gross incompetence never ceases to amaze. Rob Parker is the poster child for this, though he is one of a long list of bafoon’s making a mockery of the Hall Of Fame.

  11. ron

    January 5, 2008 at 12:06 pm

    Tram, Lou, Gibby brought us a World Series because it was a well balanced, well managed scrappy team. We did not need any hall of famers. Now we have a few potential hall of famers. Do you think anyone can step up to the plate and lead this team to the promise land after 24 years? We do not need a bunch of gaudy stats that we can pore over day in and day out. We need a LOU,LOU,LOU!

  12. Blake

    January 5, 2008 at 1:24 pm

    This is a topic that I to have avoided writing about because of my bias. However, it seems that most writers I respect say that, without question, Trammell should be headed to the Hall. The long grass argument is weak at best. Here’s hoping the Veteran’s Committee puts him in eventually.

  13. Mark in Chicago

    January 5, 2008 at 1:32 pm

    To play the devil’s advocate a bit, Ozzie had a much better defensive range factor of 5.03, vs. Tram’s 4.47 (calculated: PO + A / G) over their careers. So Ozzie got to more balls than Tram did, and with fielding % basically a wash, I would argue Ozzie is probably a better fielder, turning about 90 more balls into outs over the course of a season. That said, Tram’s offensive numbers are vastly superior to Ozzies, and it’s not even close: career OPS+ of 110 for Tram and 87 (eighty-seven!!) for Smith.

    Ripken, by way of comparison, has a range factor of 4.62 (right in between Tram and Ozzie) and an OPS+ of 112, essentially equal to Tram. So Tram stacks up as an above average offensive player and above average fielder over his career, and compares favorably against two players already in the HOF. I personally cannot see the logic of the HOF letting BOTH Ozzie and Ripken in and not Trammell, given how the numbers stack up. Unfortunately, arbitrary things such as Smith’ Gold Gloves and Ripken’s counseutive games streak (probably deservedly so, on this one) attracted votes, while Tram has nothing quite so extraordinary. He was just a very good player for a long time.

  14. Tim D

    January 5, 2008 at 2:05 pm

    I’ve said it before and I will say it again: Trammell’s career numbers are mid to upper tier for ALL shortstops in the HOF. He should be in easily. Whitaker’s numbers are similar among second baseman. But as long as even DETROIT writers think they are marginal it will never happen. Thank you Joe Falls and Lynn Henning.

    A lot of folks (read Henning) don’t like the “so and so is in so my guy must be in” argument. Well then don’t put Luis Aparicio and Phil Rizzuto and Travis Jackson in. I happen to think Ozzie is a HOF, and so, likely, are Vizquel and Larkin. Trammell isn’t a close call. Compare his numbers to all the guys, don’t just cherrypick Ripken and Smith. But there are still people who have votes who would rather put Concepcion or even Bowa in. Insane.

    And the grass business; give me a break. Just how long was it? Just how much difference did it make? How about all the slow rollers they couldn’t get to because they just died? How about that Trammell had to hit it through that grass? And how about that he was excellent on the road? On grass and turf both? Please. Sheehan is better than this; if he is curious he should get one of his salaried BPro guys to work it up, rather than speculate in print. Well Joe, Billfer beat you to it and you are wrong.

    With all the hue and cry over Blyleven, who to my mind is a no-brainer, is there anyone out there who actually thinks Blyleven was a more dominant player than Trammell? No way.

  15. BobS.

    January 5, 2008 at 3:26 pm

    Rings,I personally think all of your “if” guys and the “why not” guys belong in.There was a time when I would have argued for the exclusivity of the HoF,but it was the voters themselves who turned it into the ‘Hall of the Very Good’,as some have referred to it.But those guys you mention (and local guy Ted Simmons) are all among the best at their positions for the time that they played.
    Blyleven has been getting screwed for a long time.Among the pitchers who I like to think lowered the bar is Jim Bunning.He had some great years in Detroit(7 All Star appearances) and I remember how pissed off my dad was when he was given away to the Phillies for Don Demeter.It’s painful to think the Tigers may have gone to a Series or two more with a rotation of Bunning,Lolich,and McLain.But,overall,it’s hard to argue he had a better career than Blyleven.It’s my feeling that his political career (first as a congressman,and then as a senator post-HoF induction) helped grease the skids,as well as his throwing no-hitters in both the AL and NL.Otherwise,his numbers aren’t that special.

  16. Lee Panas

    January 5, 2008 at 4:14 pm

    I don’t see it as a Trammell versus Smith thing. They played the same position but they were very different types of players. Smith is a special case. He was the best defensive shortstop in the history of the game and redefined how the position was played. An analogy would be a designated hitter who was the best hitter ever making the Hall of Fame.

    I think Trammell was a better all around player but he needs to be compared to other all around players rather than defensive specialists. I’d put him in there but I can see why some don’t vote for him. I don’t have a problem with him being out and Smith being in.

    the real crime was Whitaker dropping off the ballot the first time around. That’s a joke.

  17. Rings

    January 5, 2008 at 6:34 pm

    Lee…I very much respect your work and enjoy your website, but much as the Inge discussion which has gone on here in the past, a gaudy range-factor does not a Hall of Famer make. Its a nice stat, but still falls rather low on the totem pole of defining statistics to measure a players value.

    Further, the issue with his election is that none of the media members voted for him because of his “range factor.” In fact, the majority of media voters were (are?) very unlikely to have ever heard of such a thing at the time. They voted for him because they liked him personally and he was a fan favorite for doing backflips and diving for balls on TWIB.
    This is wrong and hurts the credibility of the Hall if it degrades into the popularity contest that its becoming.
    As others have expressed above, Trammell compares very favorably to all hall of fame shortstops, both offensively and defensively and he deserves to be inducted, particularly if contemporaries Ripken, Yount and Smith are all in.

  18. Joey the K

    January 6, 2008 at 2:21 am

    This is what you get for being great at your job for 20 years and being very professional but doing it without any flash- snubbed.

    Ozzie gets in on his personality and back flips, but I thought it was the BASEBALL Hall of Fame.

    Make a special exception and put Tram and Lou on the plaque.

  19. Cameron in Singapore

    January 7, 2008 at 9:47 am

    Trammell belongs in the Hall. It’s just too bad it’s not going to happen, but the case is clear.

  20. Damian

    January 9, 2008 at 12:37 pm

    I live in San Diego know Tram well. He does not get a lot of love for the HOF voters and I’m personally disappointed in his lack of recognition. A quote from him states

    “Maybe people are looking at us as not exactly superstars, but a team. That’s the way we were taught and that’s the way we played every day.”.

    That says volumes for who he is deeply is…

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  23. Coach Jim

    January 13, 2009 at 3:53 pm

    Hats off to Mark in Chicago for bringing up the RANGE factor. You’re absolutely right that Ozzie made tons of plays up the middle and in the hole that other SS just didn’t get to. Still, compared to the “average” shortstop of the 80s (Julio Franco?), Trammell was top-notch.

    Also, we tend to think of Trammell as a big-time hitter. Sure, he had his good years, but he batted over .300 as many times as he batted under .270. I remember him having a bad (or should I say mediocre) habit of hitting .258.

    My personal standards for the HOF would be much higher than they are now. I would prefer to not include players that were good for a long time. I would limit it to players that were dominant for a long time. Rickey Henderson, Tony Gwynn, sure. I really like Ozzie and Tram, but I think they are both just below my threshhold.

  24. jud

    January 13, 2009 at 8:58 pm

    the biggest problem Tram and also Whittaker had was they showed up everyday …worked hard….kept their mouth shut…were team players….were professionals …played the game right………….neither could survive on a team today with those kind of problems

  25. rings

    January 13, 2009 at 9:50 pm

    Coach Jim: I agree…if guys like Ozzie, Sutter, Rice and Carter were NOT in, I’d have much less problem with Trammell, Larkin & Morris being overlooked. The “dominant” threshhold doesn’t apply to any of them. But they ARE in and to overlook so many others reeks of media favoritism, big market bias, or exteraneous factors that have nothing do do with their value or performance as a player.
    As far as Tram’s “poor offensive years,” they were still average to above-average for his position. From ’78-’93, he was an above-average MLB hitter – and way above for a SS – often hitting #2-4 in one of the 80’s most feared lineups, and keeping in mind the best of his career was still before the late 90’s steriod boom. He was also a W.S. MVP -and 2x leader of the team with the best record in baseball. Its as strong a case as any of the other above-mentioned inductees.