Alan Trammell has been in professional baseball for most of the last four decades, and he spent 25 of those years with the Tigers. So while his managerial stint in Detroit didn't end well, last November’s news that Trammell was rejoining the organization as a special assistant to the general manager wasn't terribly shocking.
But what exactly does a “special assistant” do? The intentional vagueness of the job title suggests a highly ceremonial role, akin to the baseball equivalent of World’s Greatest Grandpa. But as TigsTown learned last week, when Trammell spent several days with the West Michigan Whitecaps, his job is far more than just a title.
Trammell views himself as a jack-of-all-trades within the organization, one who gathers as much information as he can.
“My schedule basically to the middle of June is to go around to the minor league affiliates and pop into Detroit occasionally when I get a chance to,” he said. “I’m always in contact, leaving a message, or they’re leaving me a message, and just telling them what I see.”
Being a special assistant affords Trammell the freedom to act as both a scout and a roving instructor, providing him with an understanding of the players he likely wouldn't get in either traditional role, and making him a very valuable asset to Dave Dombrowski.
An honest evaluation of your own players is an extremely important aspect of a general manager’s job, and Trammell’s bosses are very eager to hear what he has to say.
“When I left Toledo I talked to Al Avila and gave him a report,” Trammell said, “And Dave very much, daily, watches and listens to all the reports; reads all the reports. He’s up to date on all the affiliates.”
And while Trammell did plenty of observation in West Michigan -- watching some of last week’s game action from a suite and a photographer’s well -- he also set aside some time for on-field instruction. He spent more than two hours last Friday working with middle infielders on their double-play feeds and pivots, helping third baseman Zach Shepherd charge the ball and throw with more consistency, and even throwing several rounds of batting practice.
Infielder Joey Pankake enjoyed his time working with Trammell. “It’s great, getting to pick his mind a little bit,” he said. “You can bounce any questions off him and he’s got a great answer. Because he’s been in our shoes and he’s played at every level. He was a really, really great player, so it’s been nice having him around.”
And Trammell wasn't limiting himself to the infielders, as he also took a moment to talk to outfielder Derek Hill.
“He pulled me aside a little bit today and talked about my swing and everything, and he gave me little bits of advice,” Hill said. “From a person who should be in the Hall of Fame, you gotta pick everything up that he puts down. So, it was a great experience. Great opportunity, and I’m just gonna keep learning from him.”
It’s all part of the process of getting to know the players in the system, something Trammell began back in February.
“I got a chance to go to spring training and be with the big club the whole time. But while I was there I would pop across the road to the minor league complex,” he said. “The first day I was down there, they had a minicamp, and so I started to get familiar with some of the kids… and that’s really what I wanted to do, so that when I started to come to these cities, the West Michigan, or Erie, or Toledo, it wasn’t the first time they’ve seen me.”
Whitecaps’ reliever Gabe Hemmer recalls his first meeting with Trammell fondly. “He came up to talk to me and introduce himself,” Hemmer said. “I was pretty shocked, because I didn't expect him to come up to me and say ‘Hi.’ He knew my name, and knew where I was from, so I was pretty starstruck.”
But after years as an all-star player, a coach, and a manager at the MLB level, why would Trammell take a job that sends him to smaller minor league cities, working with kids who may never see the majors?
“Well, the first answer would be just wearing the old English D,” he said. “You know I look at that and I smile. Whatever I can do to help in any way, to help us get back to the World Series and win a championship is what I’m here for.”
“I love being on a baseball field. That’s where I’m most comfortable,” he said. “A beautiful day, being on green grass, that’s what I enjoy.”