Verlander wins MLB Player of the Year at Players Choice
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 he 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 ever to win MLB Player of the Year honors at the annual Players Choice awards. Whether or not 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,” Verlander said. “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. Pedro Martinez won it in 1999. Randy Johnson had a case in 2002, as did 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.”
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 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 from the Players Trust 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.”