Lou Whitaker on having number retired by Detroit Tigers: ‘Thank you from the bottom of my heart’

Tigers announce plan to retire Whitaker’s No. 1 jersey

DETROIT – Longtime Detroit Tigers second baseman Lou Whitaker shared his appreciation and reflected on his career Tuesday after the team announced it will retire his No. 1 jersey during the upcoming season.

“It’s one of those things that you just don’t know what to say, even after watching the wall with all the names for 19 years, and now here is a day for you, or me, or us, and now it’s hard to put words into the meaning,” Whitaker said. “It’s just so much love and appreciation that goes with it, from the many years that I played there and the support from all the fans -- of course, the Detroit organization giving me the opportunity. I can only say thank you from the bottom of my heart.”

Whitaker played all 19 of his MLB seasons for the Tigers, racking up 2,369 hits, 244 home runs and 420 doubles in 2,390 games. He finished with a career .276/.363/.426 slash line and walked more often than he struck out -- 1,197 walks and 1,099 strikeouts.

“I got a phone call from the Tigers this morning,” Whitaker said. “I talked to Chris -- Mr. Ilitch -- and we talked for a moment and he just was thanking me for my career with the Tigers, the accomplishments, what I did for the community. Everything really goes to the fans there because I think they were the biggest support for all of us as players and, you know, when Mr. Ilitch told me, it was a moment of joy and honor, after all the years of recognition.”

Whitaker was the American League Rookie of the Year in 1978, made five straight All-Star teams from 1983 to 1987 and earned three Gold Gloves and four Silver Slugger Awards.

Whitaker’s best seasons came in 1983 and 1991. He finished eighth in AL MVP voting with a .320 average and .837 OPS in 1983. In 1991, he posted a career-high 6.8 WAR in just 138 games, thanks to 23 home runs, an .881 OPS and twice as many walks (90) as strikeouts (45).

He spoke about what it will be like to see his name on the wall.

“My eyes will probably light up," Whitaker said. “Tears probably somewhere along the way. I’ve had a taste of it. I watched (Alan Trammell). I was there for Jack (Morris). I saw their expressions, you know. They were going through so much more, too, along the way, being inducted in the Hall of Fame. So they had two slices of the pie, so to speak. But just watching their excitement sort of lets you know what it’s going to be like, but not until it actually happens.”

Whitaker recently missed out on a chance to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. He received just six of the 12 votes needed from the Modern-Era Committee, which won’t put another class up for consideration until 2022.

“After 20 years not being there and not getting the recognition, then here it comes again, 20 some years later,” Whitaker said. “I think I was more excited this time than I was before. Maybe just after all the years. Then, just listening to all the fans bringing up the WAR -- that was the big thing to me. They really showed over the years what I had done as a baseball player playing with the Detroit Tigers. It just sort of put the icing on the cake of what you did as a player. But it’s one thing -- a player has no control over the voting process. I’ve always said my job was to get an opportunity to play. I got that. Being an everyday player and then having a long career – just playing a game that I loved to do as a kid and being able to put it all together over the years.”

Whitaker said he didn’t see this number retirement coming after he missed out on the Hall of Fame.

“Well, it’s what I’ve always heard about Detroit -- is the Hall of Fame is when they put your name and number out there on the wall,” Whitaker said. "With the Hall of Fame, I had had some inside information about what would take place if it did happen. They would call me 45 minutes before the actual announcement and tell me to keep it quiet, so to speak, because they want to announce on MLB.

"So after about a half hour, quarter ‘til, I sort of thought, ‘I don’t think it’s gonna happen.’ So I called Tram. I was hoping to get through and I did. He was in Detroit, heading back to San Diego. He was in Detroit for one of his schools – he and Lance (Parrish), doing something there. And I told Tram, and first thing Tram said, ‘Lou, did you get the call?’ I said, ‘No, they said they would call within the allotted time – 45 minutes before.’ I hadn’t heard anything and we basically knew that nothing happened.

“Of course, he said, you know -- disappointment on his end. Disappointment on my end. But life is like that. You learn as a man how to accept victories and you learn how to accept your losses, your defeats. Everybody that I know, we were buying houses and renting spaces and stuff, jokingly. But we thought we would be there, and it just didn’t happen, and what more can you say? There’s a lot of rejected people -- myself included. But we’re all moving on, and now, what do we get a week later or so? We get this call here.”

The Tigers have already retired the following numbers:

  • Charlie Gehringer -- No. 2
  • Alan Trammell -- No. 3
  • Hank Greenberg -- No. 5
  • Al Kaline -- No. 6
  • Sparky Anderson -- No. 11
  • Hal Newhouser -- No. 16
  • Willie Horton -- No. 23
  • Jack Morris -- No. 47
  • Jackie Robinson -- No. 42 (retired throughout baseball)

Ty Cobb’s name is also listed among these all-time greats at Comerica Park, though he doesn’t have a number to be retired.

Whitaker will become the fourth member of the 1984 World Series champion team to be honored, joining Trammell, Morris and Anderson.

“I think I learned from listening to the fans and listening to myself: Don’t bring that much attention to yourself,” Whitaker said. "Just go out and play the game, enjoy the game. ... That was just my way of playing the game. Enjoy the game, have fun, respect the game. So that’s what I tried to do. I was glad I did it. Maybe I rubbed a few people the wrong way along the way, but I was me and I stuck with it.”

The number retirement ceremony will be held Aug. 29 against the Boston Red Sox. You can buy a ticket package for that game and Opening Day here.

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