Let me make this easy for Justin Verlander. He was a Detroit Tiger. He still feels like a Tiger. And he will forever be a Tiger.
This is why any conversation or confusion over which cap Verlander will wear on his Hall of Fame plaque is a little silly.
Anyone can look at the stats, the accolades and the years of service, which certainly play a part. They tell a lot of the story of how Verlander deserves to be memorialized in Cooperstown.
But anyone who was present at Comerica Park on Thursday could feel the energy and excitement pulsating through the stadium when Verlander made his franchise debut for the New York Mets and pitched in Detroit for the first time since 2019.
When Verlander took the mound in the bottom of the first inning, he received a standing ovation from 18,369 fans — a number larger than usual for a chilly Thursday afternoon game in early May.
Verlander tipped his cap as the applause rang throughout stadium. The press box was fuller than usual. So was the postgame news conference at his locker.
“Yeah, it meant a lot, you know?” he said. “I grew up here. I was here for 12-plus years and drafted here and obviously spent a lot of fun years here.
“And, you know, I think any athlete in any situation when they gave that much to an organization and that much of their career somewhere, it’s nice to hear the ovation and hear the applause. I mean, that’s a fan’s way of saying thank you. Of course it means a lot.”
Verlander is simply the greatest pitcher in Tigers history. He loomed as large as any player in the franchise’s 123 years of existence, partly because of his pitching prowess but also because of his strong personality and his Hollywood celebrity vibe.
Model-actress Kate Upton, a St. Joseph native and a Hall of Fame ride-or-die spouse (her 2016 Cy Young Twitter rant remains peak social-media rough justice), gets credit for burnishing her hubby’s image. She was there again Thursday waiting outside the clubhouse ready to greet Verlander with a hug after his tough outing, when he gave up two earned runs on five hits over five innings and took the 2-0 loss.
Put it all together. The time in Detroit, the awards, the winning, his unbreakable connection to the city and its fans and it’s clear why five years after he retires, Justin Brooks Verlander will be elected to the Hall on the first ballot and the cap on his plaque will be the Old English D. Not an “H” or a star or whatever the Astros are using these days.
It definitely won’t a Mets cap. OK, almost definitely not.
Verlander, 40, has said he plans to pitch until he’s 45, so there’s time for him to still write more history. But it likely won’t be enough to match what he did over nearly 13 seasons with 380 starts, 183 wins and two no-hitters with the Tigers: an MVP, a Cy Young (probably should have had two, right, Kate?), the American League Rookie of the Year, six All-Star appearances and the magical 2011 season, when he claimed the Triple Crown of pitching, leading the league in wins, strikeouts and ERA.
The only real threat is Houston, where Verlander had a fantastic three full seasons and parts of two others that featured 102 starts, 61 wins, two Cy Youngs, three All-Star appearances, two-thirds of the Triple Crown, a no-hitter — and, of course, two World Series rings.
And those rings are the only real reason the Astros cap is even a remote possibility. Which is weird, because Verlander’s 1-1 record and 4.50 ERA in four World Series starts for Houston is one of the weakest parts of his resume.
For Verlander’s part, he doesn’t want to talk about which cap might adorn his plaque.
“Ha, boy is that unfair,” Verlander told reporters with a laugh Tuesday. “Next question, please.”
I’m sure he has a preference or at least a strong inkling about which hat he might end up with. And I’m 100% positive he doesn’t want to burn any bridges or cause a stir before he returns to Houston next month for the first time. While he does have some input in the cap choice, it’s ultimately the Hall’s call.
I received this explanation from the Hall of Fame on the process: “The Hall of Fame provides guidance to each new inductee as to which logo, if any, may be represented on the cap of his plaque. While the Hall of Fame has the final say as to which logo is depicted, we work with the electee to reach an appropriate conclusion. All teams, however, are listed in the text of the plaque.”
In the interest of objectivity, I also reached out to an old friend, Jose de Jesus Ortiz, a former longtime Astros beat writer and former president of the Baseball Writers Association of America.
“Considering Justin Verlander played 13 seasons with the Detroit Tigers and had arguably the greatest season of his career with the Tigers,” Ortiz wrote to me, “I would assume the Hall of Fame would pick an Old English D on his plaque. What he did with the Astros cannot be discounted, of course, but I would assume his time in Detroit would weigh heavily in that decision. Almost three quarters of his victories and innings have been with the Tigers.”
It’s hard to know how much time Verlander has left and how many more times he’ll pitch in Detroit. Injuries and the vagaries of scheduling will play a part, which means there’s a chance Thursday could have marked Verlander’s final game at Comerica Park.
If so, it wouldn’t be the storybook ending he deserves in the place his fabled career started. But it was more than a fitting reception and acknowledgement of a player whose legacy rightfully belongs to Detroit.
Contact Carlos Monarrez: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @cmonarrez.