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On the positive side were the Charity Christian Church, which he attended as often as three times a week, and English Field, a playground near his home. "I didn't have a care in the world on the baseball field," says Whitaker. His love for the game grew with his skills. "When I was 13, I made a throw from third base, and this man, who must have been a scout, said to me, 'Son, take care of that arm. People are going to be coming around to see you play pretty soon.' "
The scouts spotted Whitaker in his junior year at Martinsville High. Wayne Blackburn of the Tigers filed this prescient report, dated Aug. 10, 1974, on Whitaker:
"WORD PICTURE—He is worth looking over next spring. Not very big. Seemed to have good baseball sense. Good arm, good hands, and range seemed okay. Bat seemed quick. But spray hitter. Got piece of ball. Had good curveball, when he went in to pitch. Had good spin, and some velocity. Attitude and aptitude was okay. Might end up at 2B or SS because of his size and not long ball hitter."
Scouts have a scale, 20 to 80, by which they rate the potential of a player: 80 is a Babe Ruth with speed; 55 is a player who could start for a major league team; and 50 means a prospect who will be one of 25 players on a major league roster. Blackburn didn't get to see Whitaker in Lou's senior year because he was in a car accident on his way to Martinsville, so the Tigers had to rely on the Major League Scouting Bureau, which had two reports on Whitaker. One rated him a 50, the other a 55; the Tigers weren't sure how high to draft Whitaker.
The 55, though, came from Billy Jurges, once a pretty fair infielder himself. Bill Lajoie, now a Tiger vice-president, was the club's scouting director at the time. "Even though none of our scouts saw Lou his senior year, I knew this—Billy Jurges doesn't like anybody [as a player]. But he liked this kid, so we figured something must be there. Funny thing, Billy liked him almost as much as a pitcher, too. Lou had a major league curveball."
The Tigers picked Whitaker in the fifth round of the 1975 draft. They thought it would be easy to sign him because he wanted to play so badly, but Blackburn couldn't come to terms with him. Lajoie went down to try. "Lou didn't say, but I had an idea why he didn't want to go," Lajoie says. "I just said, 'Let's go and get you a suitcase and some clothes.' I had $500 with me when we went into the store, and $3 when we came out. The way things have turned out with him, I'd say it was $497 well spent."
Lajoie drove Whitaker to Bristol, Va., in the rookie Appalachian League, and on the way Lou said to him, "Mister Lajoie, don't worry about me. I was born to play." In one of his first games, Whitaker was put at shortstop; he made three errors. "He cried after the game," says Lajoie. "But the next day, Lou said, 'I'm fine, that's all over with.' That showed me strength of character."
At spring training in 1976, Whitaker made an immediate impression on Detroit General Manager Jim Campbell. Says Campbell, "He came up to me and said, 'Hi, Mister Campbell. I'm Louis Whitaker and I'm going to be playing for you soon.' I stammered and said something like, 'I'm sure you will.' " Sent to Lakeland to play third base, Whitaker wound up hitting .297 and was named MVP of the Florida State League.
That same spring Trammell was winding up his career at Kearny High School, where he was a slightly bigger star on the basketball court than on the diamond. His father, Forrest, was an insurance salesman, and he remembers his childhood as a happy one, although his parents are now divorced. As a kid one of his favorite pastimes was sneaking into San Diego Stadium. His biggest thrill came the day he and a friend went down to the first row with their gloves and asked Bill Mazeroski (then a coach with the Pirates) if he wanted to throw with them. Mazeroski did. Trammell may be the first—and the only—major-leaguer to whom Clarence Gaston was a hero.
Trammell was the point guard on Kearny's successful basketball team, and he received several scholarship offers, but size was a deterrent. "The world is filled with six-foot point guards," says Trammell. Baseball scouts began to come around in Trammell's senior year to see him at shortstop, and at first they went away unimpressed. In March there were three reports, rating him from 44 to 48. In April Charlie Metro of the Scouting Bureau gave Trammell a 42.1, writing, "Bat and power lacking.... Poor knowledge and mechanics of hitting.... Good defensive prospect." But two days later, Pete Coscarart of the Bureau, a former major league infielder, gave Trammell a 55. "Both feet point out a la Yogi Berra," wrote Coscarart. "Doesn't seem to bother him. Reminds me of Marty Marion.... Has excellent hands w/strong arm. Bat is questionable but has a good swing which should improve with added WT and strength.... Improving."