Ballys Sports Detroit does periodic Players Only telecasts, which serve as a nice change of pace from the usual fare. Last night Dan Petry, Todd Jones and Craig Monroe were perched out in the outfield stands and welcomed in a wonderful group of Guys to Remember, including Hall of Fame shortstop and beloved local figure Alan Trammell. Based Alan Trammell.
During a discussion about how things are different today compared to when they played, which tends to go wrong in so many ways, the guy who was my first favorite player in any sport won even more respect. Because his succinct summation should be the template for all old heads who want to be grumpy and dismiss the modern player. And it didn't cost him any pride.
"I feel good about the era that we played in but let's be honest with each other," he said. "In all the sports, they're bigger, stronger, faster, overall they're better."
Trammell had no interest in denying what's an obvious reality. It doesn't mean he was any less of a player because people and the game have evolved. If one of the multiverses could make him a rookie shortstop right now, with all the benefits of what we've learned about player development and efficiencies in the 45 years since he debuted, he would still likely have a one-way ticket to Cooperstown.
Perhaps Trammell is able to be so clear-eyed and sober about this because he was such a fantastic ballplayer. Perhaps it's because since retiring he's been around the game as a coach and currently advises the Tigers braintrust, so he is genuinely curious about whats happening in baseball right now. Not just what happened when he was under the brightest spotlight.
It seems so simple and the bar is probably too low on this type of stuff. On the other hand, think of how many brain-numbing arguments are staged across networks trying to convince people that the Back In My Days player was superior or that today's athletes wouldn't have had the mental toughness to compete in the stirrup decades. When one adds it all up, it's a giant waste of time.
Baseball has always about trying to compare apples to apples and the stats are largely more representative so fans can do that across generations. Yet they don't tell the full story. When Trammell said this, my 8-year-old son was sitting next to me. His favorite player is the current shortstop in Detroit, Javy Baez.
Put Baez back in the early 1980s and people would have thought he was a witch with his athleticism and flair. He also wouldn't strike out with incredible frequency because no one would have ever allowed him to swing like that. He and Trammell and everyone else are a combination of nature and nurture. Incredible talents shaped by the culture of the sport at the time. Different things get valued and devalued constantly.
Trammell's approach is infinitely more curious about the world than the standard dismissal or binary proclamations. There's a lot of learning that could be done from it.