|Born: May 12, 1957|
Brooklyn, New York
|September 9, 1977, for the Detroit Tigers|
|Last MLB appearance|
|October 1, 1995, for the Detroit Tigers|
|Runs batted in||1,084|
|Career highlights and awards|
Louis Rodman Whitaker Jr. (born May 12, 1957), nicknamed "Sweet Lou", is an American professional baseball second baseman who played for the Detroit Tigers of Major League Baseball (MLB) from 1977 to 1995. He won the American League Rookie of the Year Award in 1978, and was a five-time MLB All-Star in his career. He won four Silver Slugger Awards and three Gold Glove Awards. Along with teammate Alan Trammell, Whitaker was part of the longest running double play combination in MLB history.
Whitaker was born in Brooklyn, New York City. When he was one year old, his mother, who was pregnant with his sister, Matilda, moved with Lou to Martinsville, Virginia, to live with her family. Whitaker attended Martinsville High School. He played for the school's baseball team as a middle infielder and pitcher. Whitaker graduated in 1975, and committed to play college baseball for Ferrum College.
The Detroit Tigers selected Whitaker in the fifth round, with the 99th overall selection, of the 1975 MLB draft. He signed with the Tigers rather than attend college. He made his professional debut that year for the Bristol Tigers of the Rookie-level Appalachian League. He played for the Lakeland Tigers of the Class A Florida State League in 1976. He batted .297 and was named the league's most valuable player.
After the 1976 season, the Tigers assigned Whitaker to the Arizona Instructional League, where they converted him into a second baseman and paired him with shortstop Alan Trammell. In 1977, they both played for the Montgomery Rebels of the Double-A Southern League, Whitaker batting .280 during the season. The two were both promoted to the major leagues late in the 1977 season and had become starters by the end of April 1978. They would remain teammates until Whitaker retired in 1995. Trammell and Whitaker also made a cameo appearance together on the television show Magnum, P.I. starring Tom Selleck, as themselves, during the 1983 season.
Whitaker enjoyed a strong season in 1983, hitting for a .320 average with 12 home runs, 72 runs batted in (RBI), and 94 runs. That year he made the first of five consecutive All-Star appearances. In 1984, Whitaker and the Tigers won the World Series. The day Detroit clinched the Series, the second eldest of Whitaker's four daughters was born.
In 1985, Whitaker set a record for Detroit second basemen with 21 home runs and, in 1986, was a member of a Tigers infield in which every member hit at least twenty home runs. He hit a career-best 28 homers in 1989, one of four times he reached the 20-HR plateau, upping his record for the most homers in a season by a Tiger second baseman. Whitaker now shares the season record with Ian Kinsler, who hit 28 homers in 2016 as the Tigers regular second baseman.
Whitaker reached three career milestones in 1992, recording his 2,000th game, 2,000th hit, and his 200th home run.
Along with his American League contemporaries Frank White and Willie Randolph, Whitaker set the standard for defensive play at his position throughout the 1980s. Whitaker is also one of only 19 players ever to hit a ball over the roof of Tiger Stadium.
Whitaker was an effective leadoff man, adept at drawing walks (averaging 81 BB per 162 games), quick on the bases, and able to drive the ball with power to all fields. In his 19-year career, Whitaker batted .276 with 244 home runs, 1,084 RBI, 1,386 runs, 2,369 hits, 420 doubles, 65 triples, and 143 stolen bases in 2,390 games. He also recorded a 1.089 walk-to-strikeout ratio. Defensively, he recorded a .984 fielding percentage playing every inning of his career at second base. He retired following the 1995 season. Whitaker is unique among long-career players in that he had the highest OPS of his career in his final season, .890 in 1995. Equally unique, Whitaker's OPS actually improved in each of his three final seasons.
After retirement, Whitaker became an instructor for the Tigers during their spring training sessions in Lakeland, Florida, where he helped coaching hitters through the 2009 season. He and the Tigers parted ways in 2010 by mutual agreement.
In the 1985 All-Star Game, Whitaker forgot to pack his uniform. Making this discovery just before the game, he had to make do with replica merchandise available for purchase at the park. He obtained an adjustable mesh hat and a blank jersey. He finished off his outfit by scrawling his number on the back in magic marker (or, by some accounts, having a fan do so for him). The Smithsonian requested the jersey and it remains a part of their collection.
During the 1986 All-Star Game, Whitaker was one of the five players struck out consecutively by National League pitcher Fernando Valenzuela, tying Carl Hubbell's mark. Whitaker also homered in the game, a two-run homer in a game the American League won 3-2.
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Whitaker ranks among the Tigers' all-time leaders in many categories, including the following:
Although the team has not officially retired Whitaker's jersey, there has been some debate among fans on social media outlets and on sports talk radio when it was announced in August 2013 that newly acquired infielder José Iglesias would take over the number. Iglesias was the first player to wear jersey #1 since Whitaker's retirement in 1995. Upon joining the Tigers in 2019, Josh Harrison chose to wear number 1 to honor Whitaker, again sparking debate over the number's status. On December 17, 2019, the Tigers announced that they would retire the number on August 29, 2020.
Whitaker was considered for election to the Baseball Hall of Fame by the Baseball Writers' Association of America (BBWAA) in 2001, but received only 15 votes (2.9%). His low vote total surprised many observers, including Bill James, who named Whitaker the thirteenth-best second baseman of all time in The Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract. Candidates receiving less than 5% of BBWAA votes are removed from future BBWAA ballots, but may be considered by applicable committees that review candidates from different eras in baseball history. Whitaker was considered by the Modern Baseball Era Committee for the 2020 induction class, but fell short of the required 75% threshold for induction, receiving six votes from the 16-member committee (37.5%).