From the late 1970s to the early 90s, you knew who would be playing second base for the Detroit Tigers. Like the fellow prospect who occupied shortstop for about the same amount of time, he was a steady presence, whether the Tigers were really good, really bad or just average. You could find Lou Whitaker baseball cards in packs of Topps cards every year, too. Since he hasn’t been elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame yet, they’re generally inexpensive.
Sweet Lou’s day in the sun could be coming, however.
The Whitaker File
Whitaker made his big league debut in September of 1977, two years after the Tigers drafted him out of Martinsville, VA. By late April 1978, both Whitaker and Alan Trammell had become the starting double play combination and they would remain teammates until Whitaker retired in 1995.
Whitaker’s 19-year career included 2,369 hits, four Silver Slugger Awards and three Gold Gloves. He was a five-time All-Star with a .363 on-base percentage.
The numbers haven’t been enough to get him into Cooperstown, but he’ll get another chance when the Modern Era Committee takes up his case again in 2022. Considering that the vast majority of the 78 players whose lifetime WAR rank above his 75.1 are enshrined, he’ll get strong consideration again after falling a little short in the last vote.
Regardless of whether he’s ever inducted, the Tigers plan to retire his number 1.
Lou Whitaker Rookie Card(s)
Like fellow Tiger stalwarts Trammell, Jack Morris and Lance Parrish, Whitaker’s rookie card is #704 in the 1978 Topps set. He shares a “Rookie 2nd Basemen” card with three other players. One of the 51 PSA 10 examples sold for over $1,700 in November of 2019 and three others also broached the four-figure mark last year. A check of eBay shows most don’t cost anything close to that. In fact, solid quality ungraded examples can still be had for under $5. A graded 8 runs $30-$40 while a 9 is still under $200.
Whitaker did have a solo card in the 1978 Topps style. Burger King restaurants in Michigan issued a set of Tigers cards that summer. They were produced by Topps and sold in three-card packs but contained some updated photos. Complete sets and single cards vary in price based on condition but they’re more expensive than the flagship issue.
He also appeared in a Tigers’ team issued postcard set that season.
Other Early Issues
The checklist of early Lou Whitaker cards isn’t long. He appeared in both the Topps and O-Pee-Chee sets in 1979. Both cards are inexpensive. Even PSA 10 examples of Whitaker’s 1979 Topps card have yet to crack $200.
He was also part of the last of five 1970s sets produced by Hostess in 1979. The panel that appeared on the boxes of snack cake products featured cards of Whitaker, Eddie Murray and Jack Clark. Largely because of Murray’s presence, the ’79 Hostess panel will cost a little more.