Why it’s both cool and cruel to see Verlander and Scherzer back in Detroit — with the Mets

Detroit Free Press

Down a hallway.

Past a security guard.

Into the visiting clubhouse in Comerica Park.

Max Scherzer’s jersey was hanging in one corner of the New York Mets clubhouse, and Justin Verlander’s jersey was about 15 feet away.

So cool.

Just the idea of both of these guys on the same team again.

Just the idea of two former Detroit Tigers aces pitching in Comerica Park again — even if it is for the Mets.

Scherzer is scheduled to pitch against the Tigers on Wednesday and Verlander on Thursday. One after the other. In the same rotation.  Just like old times here in Detroit.

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Yes, it is cool for the pure nostalgia of Tigers fans, like seeing some old friends from back in the day.

But it is also, well, depressing.

Because it’s a stark reminder of what the Tigers once had when this organization spent money, rolling out a rotation of experienced studs, putting out a batting lineup of stars.

Verlander and Scherzer are both making $43.3 million this season, a staggering number on a team with a staggering payroll. The Mets have a $353.5 million payroll — the largest in MLB history — which is $76.5 million more than the second-place New York Yankees.

On the other hand, the Tigers are spending $122 million, 19th in MLB.

One organization is saying: We are gonna spend whatever it takes. We are acquire the best team money can buy. We are gonna do our darndest to win now, to give our fans the best product possible.

The Tigers have done the exact opposite. They are saying: Please, give us more time. We are rebuilding. Is it a rebuild of a rebuild? Doesn’t really matter because we are going to build this slowly. We are going to be fiscally responsible. We are gonna make this sustainable. We are going try to build through the draft and develop youngsters, and it might hurt — yes, it’s gonna hurt — but stick with us.

So, you can look at Scherzer and Verlander pitching in Comerica Park and wax poetic about the glory days, and that’s fine.

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Or you can see it for what it is: Their jaw-dropping salaries and mere presence together in the Mets’ rotation highlights the discrepancy in MLB payrolls. Nobody in baseball is spending like the Mets, who are basically putting a pile of cash into the middle of the field and lighting it on fire, hoping it leads to a championship.

So be it. That’s their choice. Personally, that kind of fire, seeing an owner try to win now, warms my heart.

But it does makes you wonder: Imagine what it would be like if the Tigers actually spent money. If they put a premium on bringing together star players. If they just went for it.

No, wait. That’s exactly how Mike Ilitch ran this team.

“I mean, yeah, it was one hell of a run,” Verlander said. “Year in and year out, this team was a juggernaut going deep in the playoffs every year. And you know, Mr. I was doing anything he could to put an unbelievable product on the field. I mean, what a time to be not only a player for the Tigers organization, but a fan.”

Indeed. What a time.

The more Verlander talked about the past, the more you remember how everything has changed for the Tigers.

The juggernaut has been reduced to a revolving door to Toledo, as a bunch of minor leaguers try to make it in the bigs.

“My time in the five years I was here, it was arguably the best five years in recent history for the Tigers,” Scherzer said. “To be a part of that run, it was awesome. We had such great teams, great players.”

They don’t have that anymore, obviously.

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As Scherzer talked glowingly of the old days in Comerica Park, when this team was winning and one star was replaced with another, and champagne was flowing in celebration, it seemed like a lifetime ago.

And yes, that’s the cruel part.

Because I’m pretty sure the Tigers don’t even bother putting champagne in the budget anymore.

Better to have loved and lost …

There are just so many layers to this situation.

It highlights the risk and rewards of long-term contracts.

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Mike Ilitch gave Miguel Cabrera a franchise-buckling contract — he’s making $32 million this season; and the Tigers are getting virtually nothing from him.

Meanwhile, both Scherzer and Verlander left Detroit and became gazillionaires, each of them finding even more incredible success away from Detroit, each winning a pair of Cy Young Awards for their new teams.

“Sometimes a business situation doesn’t work out in your favor,” Scherzer said, starting to rehash his well-told controversial exit. “There’s just that’s just the way it worked. I don’t need to rehash old stories about that.”

Meanwhile, the Tigers traded Verlander to Houston and he was suddenly introduced to analytics.

“Went from like zero to 100 going from Detroit to Houston at the time, you know, back in ’17,” he said.

Zing.

Yes, he has said that before. But still, it stings.

Two bulls, one team

There was a time when you could feel the energy between Scherzer and Verlander. Like two bulls in the same ring.

Hell yes, they were competitive. Hell yes, they drove each other.

But on Tuesday, it sounded like that has softened.

“It’s been fun to pick his mind to see what he’s thinking, what he sees and, you know, the kinds of adjustments he makes, comparing notes and trying to get each other better,” Scherzer said.

The two aging stars are still learning from each other.

Still pushing each other. Just in a new way.

“Just excited to be back with Max,” Verlander said. “You know, I think we kind of went our separate ways and, you know, to come back together at this stage in our career, I think has been such a blessing. We’ve had a lot of talks about pitching and reconnecting. It’s been great.”

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Age comes with wisdom

Something weird happens when you see friends from back in the day.

Sometimes, you pick up right where you left off. Like nothing ever changed. Like you are still in the same chapter of the same book.

But other times? You realize you are different.

That’s where we find Scherzer and Verlander.

They are different. They are older. They are at a new place in their lives, and that’s OK.

“I definitely look at my career and life in like chapters,” Verlander said. “Just appreciate it for what it was and close that chapter and move on to the new one. I’m right in the thick of a brand new chapter with the Mets.”

So savor this time.

Just seeing them again.

Bask in the memories of what once was.

But it’s natural to feel a little depressed, too.

Realizing how everything has changed.

Contact Jeff Seidel: jseidel@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @seideljeff.

To read Seidel’s recent columns, go to freep.com/sports/jeff-seidel.

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