Trammell: 'I'll always be a Tiger'

DETROIT -- Alan Trammell got a hip replacement in September to alleviate years of arthritic pain, but there are still days when he doesn't act his age. Not long after the procedure, Trammell pitched in and helped his son on moving day.

"I carried mostly light stuff," Trammell said. "Maybe that wasn't the smartest thing, but if I felt anything, I would have stopped."

Trammell, 48, did most of his heavy lifting with a TV remote this summer, and what he saw on the Major League Baseball package filled his heart with pride. After 12 straight losing seasons and 18 years without a playoff berth, the only professional team he has ever known is the talk of baseball again.

With four more victories, the Detroit Tigers will celebrate their first title since 1984 -- when a steady, reliable shortstop named Alan Trammell hit .450 and won the World Series Most Valuable Player award in a five-game victory over the Padres.

As Magglio Ordonez hit a walk-off homer in the American League pennant clincher on Saturday, Trammell felt the pangs at his home in San Diego. A piece of him no doubt flashed back to last October, when the Tigers fired him as manager and replaced him with Jim Leyland.

But Trammell always valued the Old English "D" on the front of his jersey more than the name on the back. He showed class for 20 years as a player, so why stop now?

"Obviously, nobody likes to get fired, and when it happens, there's a period of time you have to reflect," Trammell said by phone this week. "But this isn't about me. It's about the Tigers. They're the main focus. They're getting their due, and that's what puts a smile on my face."

Trammell pauses and thinks back a few years, when the Tigers were even mentioned as a potential target for contraction.

"They were down a long time and people wanted to kick them and stomp on them," he said. "Now they're being talked about as a model organization. They're one of the teams to copy. I'm proud of that, because I'll always be a Tiger."

The 2006 postseason has given Detroit fans an opportunity to celebrate old favorites. Al Kaline and Willie Horton, assistants to general manager David Dombrowski, were on the fringe of the champagne spraying and cigar puffing after playoff wins over the New York Yankees and Oakland Athletics. Mickey Lolich and George Kell threw out the ceremonial first pitches in the American League Championship Series.

Trammell hasn't been contacted about coming back to Detroit for the World Series festivities, but it would only be fitting. He ranks among the top 10 Tigers in career hits, runs, doubles and a slew of other categories, and he combined with second baseman Lou Whitaker to set a new standard for double-play continuity over a span of 19 seasons.

Trammell's three years as manager in Detroit were the equivalent of rolling a boulder up a hill. Along with former teammates-turned-coaches Kirk Gibson and Lance Parrish, he suffered through a 43-win season in 2003. The Tigers made significant progress in 2004, winning 72 games. But when they stalled at 71 a year ago, it became apparent that even local icons aren't bulletproof.

Trammell's game strategy was called into question, and there were rumblings that the players had tuned out his message in the clubhouse. He had his challenges dealing with Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez, who was going through a divorce, and Dmitri Young, whose off-field issues finally prompted the Tigers to release him this year.

When the Tigers lost 29 of their final 39 games, some observers even wondered if Trammell was too nice a guy, unable to apply the requisite kick in the behind to players who needed more than his shining example for motivation.

Were the characterizations fair? Are they ever? In his heart, Trammell can't help but wonder if things might have been different with another year and better luck. The 2005 Tigers lost Carlos Guillen for an extended period with a knee injury and Ordonez to a sports hernia. Trammell didn't have Kenny Rogers or Todd Jones to anchor the staff, or Justin Verlander and Joel Zumaya to provide energy in 100 mph increments.

"I think our entire staff feels good that we were able to lay a little foundation. It's not like I'm sitting here saying, 'OK, they made the playoffs. Now I'm proud of them.' I've been proud of them all year."
-- Alan Trammell

When the Tigers decided to fire Trammell, Dombrowski hauled out the generic, all-purpose explanation -- that it was time for a change. He conveyed his sentiments to Trammell in a brief conversation after the final game, and both sides have remained diplomatic to the point of amicable.

"It was a tough decision in the respect that Alan Trammell is a wonderful person," Dombrowski said. "He did a lot of good things for us. But when we decided it was time for a change, the selection was very easy. When Jim Leyland has that passion and fire, which you can see now, he's one of the best -- if not the best -- managers in baseball."

Hard to argue that one. Although Trammell never played for Leyland, he was in Detroit when Leyland was plugging away as a manager in the Tigers' minor league system in the 1970s. The two men have a palpable respect for one another.

"Jim is really a Tiger from way back, so I'm sure this means a little bit more to him," Trammell said. "He deserves all the accolades he's gotten and will continue to get. He's gotten that team to play at another level."

After a year of relative leisure in Southern California, Trammell is ready to get back in uniform. He recently interviewed for a coaching job in Philadelphia, but the Phillies went in a different direction, adding Art Howe, Jimy Williams and Davey Lopes to manager Charlie Manuel's staff.

Trammell remains a candidate for the job of Colorado Rockies hitting instructor, along with former Boston hitting coach Ron Jackson and several others.

Trammell is pragmatic enough to realize that another managerial job won't just drop in his lap, but he has no problems with coming back as a coach. When Trammell was playing shortstop for the Tigers, Cal Ripken Jr., of all people, considered him a paragon of professionalism and fundamentally sound play. Does a man need a better endorsement than that?

Justice and fair play dictate that Trammell will find his niche soon enough. In the meantime, he'll be pulling for the Tigers. They're in his bones.

"I think our entire staff feels good that we were able to lay a little foundation," Trammell said. "It's not like I'm sitting here saying, 'OK, they made the playoffs. Now I'm proud of them.' I've been proud of them all year."

Jerry Crasnick covers baseball for ESPN Insider. His book "License To Deal" was published by Rodale. Click here to order a copy. Jerry can be reached via e-mail.