Verlander takes home Player of the Year honors
Tigers ace second pitcher to win Players Choice award
DETROIT -- Justin Verlander kept repeating a phrase all year when reporters asked: If you expect greatness, greatness shouldn't surprise you. The recognition of that greatness, though, might be a surprise for a few people.
As badly as Tigers right-hander might want MVP-type recognition, he couldn't be sure he was going to get it, a question more of precedence than performance. His first chance came from his peers, who decided he was the best player in baseball this year -- not just best pitcher, best player.
As a result, Verlander became the second pitcher to win MLB Player of the Year honors in the annual Players Choice Awards on Thursday. Whether it was a surprise for Verlander, it was clearly meaningful as he talked about it on a conference call with reporters.
"Coming from your peers makes it all the more special," said Verlander, who joined Boston's Pedro Martinez (1999) as the only hurlers to win the award. "I think with all the talk about should a pitcher be able to win MVP or a top player award, I think it shows a lot of support for my fellow players to be able to vote me for that. I think it means a lot. When it comes from your peers, the guys you're playing with, the guys you're playing against, it's special."
The Player of the Year Award covers both leagues, and dates back to 1998. Before then, the MLB Players Association had one award for each league's best pitcher, and one for each league's best position player, with no mixing.
The last pitcher to win MVP honors from baseball writers, Hall of Fame closer Dennis Eckersley, did it in 1992, six years before the Players Choice Awards added their equivalent. Some pitchers made their case since, from Martinez in 1999 to Arizona's Randy Johnson in 2002 to Minnesota's Johan Santana in 2006. They all won pitching triple crowns and led their teams into the postseason, but they still didn't have the resume Verlander posted in 2011.
Though Verlander didn't allow himself to reflect on his season until the Tigers' run through October ended in the AL Championship Series, his fellow players had to reflect a lot sooner than that.
"Obviously, from a personal standpoint, it was an amazing year," Verlander said. "I worked extremely hard for this, and I told you guys a few times, if you expect greatness it shouldn't surprise you. I've always expected myself to be able to pitch this way. It still doesn't surprise me that I did."
Yet, it still surprised him to be mentioned with Martinez, Santana, Johnson and others among the greatest single seasons in baseball history.
"Looking back and seeing how the numbers stack up, even to be mentioned in that category, I know it doesn't measure up to some of them, it's still pretty special," Verlander said. "I think it'll be a season I remember for a long time."
So will Tigers fans. He topped all AL pitchers with 24 wins, a 2.40 ERA and 250 strikeouts, becoming the first American Leaguer to do that since Santana in 2006 and the first Tiger since Hal Newhouser in 1945. No AL pitcher had won that many games in a season since Bob Welch won 27 for the 1990 powerhouse Oakland Athletics. No Major League pitcher had posted that combination of strong Triple Crown stats in the same season since the Big Unit in 2002, no American Leaguer since Vida Blue in 1971.
Verlander also led AL pitchers with 251 innings, a .192 opposing batting average and a 0.92 WHIP (walks plus hits per innings pitched) ratio.
Verlander easily beat out Angels All-Star Jered Weaver and Rays ace James Shields for AL Outstanding Pitcher. His competitors for MLB Player of the Year were his former Detroit teammate Curtis Granderson, who hit 41 homers with 119 RBIs for the Yankees while leading the league with 136 runs scored, and Boston's Adrian Gonzalez, who finished second to Tigers slugger Miguel Cabrera in batting average at .338 while driving in 117 runs and posting a .410 on-base percentage.
To beat them out was big. Verlander tried to match that with what he did with his winnings. The Player of the Year honor comes with a $50,000 grant to the winner's charity of choice. AL Outstanding Pitcher brings another $20,000. Verlander took that $70,000, added $30,000 of his own and split the total between two veterans hospitals in metro Detroit.
The John D. Dingell Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Detroit and the Veterans Affairs Ann Arbor Healthcare System in Ann Arbor will receive donations of $50,000 each. Both took part in the Verlander's Victory for Veterans program this summer, allowing veterans who sustained injuries or illness serving in Iraq or Afghanistan to enjoy a game from Verlander's luxury suite at Comerica Park on days when Verlander started.
"I added a little bit to make it a nice round number," Verlander said. "I wanted to donate some of my own money because it's a personal cause. It's something I believe in. This is something I feel greatly, so I wanted to give some of my own money."
Verlander allowed himself to bask in his awards victory during the ceremony on Thursday. He'll gladly do the same if he can repeat the honor when AL MVP results are announced Nov. 21. By then, however, he'll already be at work for next year.
"I start working out next week, man," Verlander said. "I can't say it was any different than before, than the last two seasons. Just take it as it comes.
"I'm just trying to take it as normal. It hasn't really sunk in yet, to be honest with you. I don't know if it will."