Lou Whitaker has been my favorite player since I started little league at 7 years old in 1980. I followed baseball extremely closely for 20 years, and Lou's career closer than any other. I won't go through his stats, as I've done that before on the board. He ranks right there with Joe Morgan and Ryne Sandberg, and was the best 2nd baseman in the AL during his prime. Depending on which metric you want to use, about the 5th best second baseman to ever play the game. In other words, a no-doubt-Hall of Famer.
Like some of you, I've been beating the drum for the last 19 years about finally getting Lou the recognition he deserves. Finally, there seems to be a glimmer of hope. It is about time.
Why has he not gotten his just due? I think a lot of things play a factor. Very early in his career he was labeled "cocky" by some in the Tigers' system and Joe Falls picked up on that and printed it. As the story goes, Gates Brown (Tiger's Hitting coach 1978-84) was telling Lou he was doing something wrong in the batting cage, and Lou replied "I know how to hit." That might have been a big deal in 1978, a rookie telling a hitting coach he knew how to hit, and I can see how some would take that to be very disrespectful. But Lou was very quiet, and never challenged anything that was written about him.
The second point is he was very quiet. Respectful, would answer questions, but no more. He was a family man and very religious, and did not hide either one. The fact that he is a Jehovah's Witness (a misunderstood religion anyway) did not help him any in the media. He was labeled a favorite of Sparky's, but Sparky knew to how best to handle the most talented man on his team, leave him alone and let him do his thing.
He didn't bask in the limelight. He would rather have the 3 days off during the All-Star break to spend with his family then go play in the game. "Forgetting" his uniform one year at the ASG didn't help either.
He retired very quietly.
He has said things in the last 20+ years in retirement that haven't set well with everyone in baseball. If you ask him a questions, he will tell you exactly what he thinks.
He always, and still does, dress very flashy. His former wife owned an upscale clothing store for years.
And finally I think the way he has been treated by the Tigers as a team since retirement. He has been brought back several times during Spring Training as an "assistant coach" in Lakeland, but never as part of the team as his fellow stars have been, like Tram, Gibby, Parish, Morris, and to a lessor extent Rozema and Petry. The Tigers are about the worst team in baseball when it comes to honoring their past stars. To not have 1 and 3 retired on the same day, a year or two after they both retired, is just a travesty. No one is baseball has ever had what the Tigers did with Lou and Tram, and they continue to strike out with that. A statue with Tram feeding the ball to Lou is so long over due.
Lou was a Hall of Fame player, and we Tiger fans really are lucky to have watched him play for 19 years.