Verlander has prize because he earned it

by | Nov 22, 2011 | Detroit Free Press, Sports | 0 comments

MVP. More Verlander, Please.

Turns out one award wasn’t enough. The Cy Young was just an opener. Justin Verlander, the best hurler in the game, just won the American League MVP, the first time in 25 years a guy has done it from the starting pitcher’s mound.

And here’s the best part:

He earned it.

He earned it because he went 24-5. He earned it because he owned his starts from June through September. He earned it because he had 250 strikeouts and was as close to a sure thing as you get in sports. He earned it because he rested the next day’s bullpen every time he pitched into the seventh, eighth or ninth.

He earned it because whenever the Tigers slipped on a banana peel, he was there to catch them, breaking possible slumps, keeping climbing opponents at bay.

He earned it because he was dominant. Because he was lights out. Because he threw a no-hitter and threatened a couple more. Because he got stronger as the game went on, relying on placement early and bringing the heat late. Who throws FASTER in the eighth inning? Are you kidding?

“Not even in my wildest dreams had I thought of this,” Verlander said after winning the honor. “I want to say it is a dream come true. I can’t say that, because my dream had already come true – it was winning the Cy Young. The next dream is to win a World Series. This wasn’t even on my radar until the talk started, and then all of a sudden it was kind of ‘this could actually happen.'”

It happened.


Mr. Verlander Performs.

A Detroiter has to give 110%

Make noise. This was a big deal. Verlander, only 28, broke the mold with pitching this summer, and broke another mold with voting on Monday. There was so much talk about the tradition of this award, why a starting pitcher shouldn’t win it, how a guy who only appears once every four or five games should not be in the conversation with outfielders and infielders and catchers.

But in the end, Verlander had 13 first-place votes, more than the next three finishers combined – all of them everyday players.

“It means a lot, really, especially with everybody saying they don’t know if I have a chance, whether the writers would shun me because I was a pitcher….

“I’m glad the writers acknowledged that we have a major impact in this game and we can be extremely valuable to our team and its success.”

Detroit can vouch for that. If Verlander isn’t the single reason the Tigers made the playoffs, he’s the top of the list. And speaking of Detroit, throw this in the mix. The last starting pitcher to win the MVP was Roger Clemens in 1986. He had similar numbers to Verlander’s, plus the advantage of the huge Boston market. And while it’s true voters gather information from everywhere, any time a Detroit player captures a national award, you have to think he needed an extra 10% to get the same notice as a Yankee, a Phillie, a Red Sox or a Dodger.

It’s a whole new ballgame

“I talked to Alex (Avila) as soon as I found out,” Verlander said. “He was just as excited as I was, I think. He said it made his day – and means a lot to me – cause I told him I definitely couldn’t have done this without him.”

And right there is part of the MVP that won’t show in the stats. Verlander is now a force in the clubhouse. He handles himself with high expectations, and those high expectations are contagious. He never forgot this year to credit his teammates, from his catcher to his fielders. He texted Miguel Cabrera early Monday, saying “I hope one of the two of us wins.” And once the results were announced, Cabrera texted him back, saying congratulations and he deserved it.

That kind of stuff goes a long way. The true measure of this award will be felt next spring and summer, in the crowds, in the clubhouse, in the heightened expectations every time Verlander steps to the mound, but also in the franchise’s own expectations for itself, having a superstar of this quality on the roster.

Or as Verlander told ESPN, detailing his message to his teammates: “The personal accolades are great, but it’s World Series time, 2012. We gotta go.”


More Victories, Please.

Contact Mitch Albom: 313-223-4581 or Catch “The Mitch Albom Show” 5-7 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760).


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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