DETROIT — Theirs is a union of circumstance and fate, a marriage celebrated on a diamond instead of with one.
To put in perspective the partnership of second baseman Lou Whitaker and shortstop Alan Trammell, consider this: The Detroit Tigers have had one double-play combination since the two were summoned from Montgomery, Ala., of the Southern League and made their major league debut in the second game of a doubleheader against the Boston Red Sox on Sept. 9, 1977. The New York Yankees, in that span, have changed managers 17 times.
Other players may change allegiances in pursuit of riches, but Whitaker and Trammell remain a constant and reassuring sight in the Tigers' infield.
"We're both very proud that we're the longest running double-play combination," said Trammell, a Garden Grove native who grew up in San Diego, a continent away from Whitaker's home in Martinsville, Va. "To me, to have two positions open at the same time, that's so highly unlikely.
"It was just meant to be."
Paired almost accidentally in the minor leagues, where Whitaker began as a third baseman and was shifted to second because the Tigers were deep at third, the players are linked for posterity. Their 13-year tenure is the longest for any double-play combination in major league history, longer than the 11-year pairing of Johnny Evers and Joe Tinker, who combined with first baseman Frank Chance to form the Chicago Cubs' fabled infield early in the century; longer than Davey Lopes' and Bill Russell's partnership with the Dodgers from 1972 to '81.
"It's very unusual," said Sparky Anderson, who is the American League's senior manager with more than 11 years' service, but who stands second in seniority on his own team to his double-play combination. "I don't believe you'll see it again because of free agency and all the other factors in the game today."
Both infielders appreciate their accomplishment, but they deem it so natural a part of their baseball lives that Whitaker was surprised to be asked about it last week, during a season in which Tiger outfielder Cecil Fielder is leading the major leagues in home runs and runs batted in.
"You know who I am?" Whitaker asked. "You know I'm not Cecil? Most people coming around here are looking for Cecil."
There's still ample reason to look at--and to--Trammell and Whitaker, who lead the revived Tigers into Anaheim Stadium tonight for a four-game series against the Angels.
Although Whitaker is struggling with an average of .193, his nine homers are second on the Tigers behind Fielder's 25 and he has 25 RBIs. He hit .251 last season, far below his career average of .276, but he led the Tigers with 28 homers (a club record for second basemen), had a career-high 85 RBIs and was the only AL second baseman to exceed 25 home runs.
"He'll straighten out," Anderson said. "I'm not worried about that."
Nor is Whitaker, who continues to be serenaded at Tiger Stadium with cries of \o7 "L-o-o-o-o-u," \f7 with nary a "Boo" among them.
"It's been a very pleasant career for me, even if this year is a little difficult," said Whitaker, who wears a brace to keep his balky back warm. "I still enjoy baseball. I'm still putting the numbers together, but my average is pitiful, pathetic. But I'm going to make it. I'm going to survive this thing. I'm a Tiger--I'm going to claw my way back up this tree until I get back on top. . . .
"I don't believe in jinxes, but this is year number 13 for us."
Thirteen has been lucky for Trammell, a career .286 hitter who has hit .300 or better five times and was the runner-up to Toronto's George Bell in voting for the American League's most valuable player award in 1987 with a .343 average, 28 home runs and 105 RBIs.
This season, he has raised his batting average to .307 by hitting in nine of his last 10 games. He has driven in 10 runs in his last 11 games for a total of 43, one short of his injury-riddled 1989 season.
"Trammell will be in the Hall of Fame; there's no way you can stop him," Anderson said. "He'll have the numbers, the average, the runs scored."
So much respect does Trammell command among opponents that Oakland Manager Tony La Russa decided to walk him with a one-run lead in the fourth inning Tuesday and pitch to Fielder, who hit a two-run single.
"When you break it down, you're really looking at two guys who've been our biggest producers and they're middle men," Anderson said. "You don't expect to get that kind of hitting out of those positions, but they've given us that and strength up the middle defensively."
Whitaker, a three-time Gold Glove winner and four-time All-Star, has committed only one error this season; Trammell, a four-time Gold Glove winner and five-time All-Star, has made five. The St. Louis Cardinals' Ozzie Smith is a more acrobatic shortstop, and Baltimore Oriole shortstop Cal Ripken has played more consecutive games than anyone except Lou Gehrig, but for reliability and consistency, Trammell and Whitaker are second to none.