In May of '76, Trammell's ratings shot up as high as 58.6 (Larry Maxie of the Scouting Bureau on May 25). "Maybe it was because I was coming off of basketball," says Trammell. "I do remember I was awfully hot at that time." Both Tiger scouts, Dick Wiencek and Rick Ferrell, liked him a lot, although Ferrell added this caveat: "He could be first-draft choice but down the line. Will develop into a fine def. SS—Ray Oyler type." Ray Oyler, who played four years with the Tigers, had a lifetime batting average of. 175.
Trammell was the Tigers' second-round pick in June of 1976, and he turned down Arizona State and UCLA to sign for $35,000. The Tigers' seventh-round pick that year was a Cal Poly junior infielder named Ozzie Smith. Detroit didn't sign Smith, but if they had, Whitaker might still be a third baseman and Trammell and Smith the double-play combination.
Trammell succeeded Whitaker as the Bristol shortstop in '76 and made the All-Star team. Trammell and Whitaker met for the first time that fall in the Instructional League at St. Petersburg. G.M. Campbell had already made the decision that Whitaker be converted into a second baseman, and that he and Trammell be paired. Whitaker didn't like the move at first, but he complied.
"The very first day, we clicked," says Trammell. Eddie Brinkman, the former Washington and Detroit shortstop who now coaches for the White Sox, was an instructor that fall for the Tigers. "The first time I saw Trammell field a ground ball, I said to myself, 'My, my, we've got something here.' And Whitaker was such a natural athlete that he took to second base right away." Campbell promised them sports coats if they performed well in the Instructional League. Recalls Campbell, "At the end Lou asked me if they'd earned it, and I said they had, and the next morning we drove to a store and they went right to the rack where they had two suits already picked out. I had promised them a sports coat, remember, but I bought them the suits."
"It was Lou who talked him into the suits," says Trammell. "Three-piece suits. We both still have them."
In 1977 they roomed and played together at Montgomery in the Class AA Southern League. "We did everything together," says Whitaker. "We didn't have anybody else." Says Trammell, "We comforted each other a little. If one of us had a bad night, the other one wouldn't let it get him down. We sort of used each other as crutches, and we became pretty close." Whitaker hit .280. Trammell batted .291, broke Reggie Jackson's league record for triples with 19 and was named league MVP. Brinkman, their manager, says, "They could've been co-MVPs that year."
On Sept. 8, the day after the Rebels beat Jacksonville to win the playoffs, Whitaker and Trammell flew to Detroit. They were going to the majors, which was fine with Whitaker, who didn't much like the bus trips in the minors. "I think I've still got some cramps from some of our trips. One of our pitchers, Sheldon Burnside, finally taught me how to sleep, stretched out on the luggage rack up top." Once in Tiger uniforms, they were interviewed by broadcaster George Kell. Whitaker said "hi" to all his friends in Virginia, even though the game was being telecast only in Detroit. Trammell finished the interview by yelling "Go, Rebels!" Manager Ralph Houk started the kids the next night in Boston in the second game of a doubleheader; Whitaker got three hits, Trammell two.
The next spring, coaches and writers cautioned the Tigers against rushing Whitaker and Trammell to the big leagues, but both performed so well that Houk had no choice. Before long, he was comparing them to his old Yankee double-play combo, Bobby Richardson and Tony Kubek. "It's the damndest thing," Houk said. "You tell one of them something and he says, 'We can do it.' Like they're a team." By the end of May, they were starters—for good.
"Ralph Houk had a lot to do with our making it," says Trammell. "He let us play through our mistakes, never put any pressure op us." Whitaker hit .285 and was named Rookie of the Year, while Trammell hit .268. Detroit was so taken with them that an editorial in the Detroit Free Press suggested they could be used as an allegory for the city—white and black working together.
Both of them had good seasons in '79—Whitaker hit .286, Trammell .276—but when their agent, Rick Brode, decided to take both their salaries to arbitration in '80, Detroit turned against them. Brode asked $130,000 for each, and while they both won, one columnist wrote: "Their halos have slipped."