The year is 2050. My grandchild comes up to me and asks, "What was it like to watch Justin Verlander pitch?" "Child," I respond, "He was the greatest, most dominant pitcher ever to wear a Tigers uniform."
I will then take my grandchild to see the display at Comerica Park (if it's still called that by then). What display? The statue of Verlander that will inevitably be built and placed in the park. It will be near the wall where his number 35 will be retired. That, of course, will be the wall opposite of the one with the players who are in the Hall of Fame, which is where you will again see Verlander's name.
Assuming Verlander stays healthy, and stays in a Tigers uniform until he's at least 35 or 36 years old, he will be the winningest pitcher in the history of the franchise. Do you know who's currently number one? Of course you don't. It's George "Hooks" Dauss. He had 223 career wins, pitching for the Tigers from 1912-1926. Verlander will blow that record away.
He has a chance at 300. Verlander currently has 112 wins, and he's 29 years old. He will probably win 20 this season, giving him 127 for his career. That leaves him less than five seasons pitching at his current rate to get him to number one all-time. Maybe four. I think Verlander will win 20 or more many times over, collecting a nice shelf filled with Cy Young Award trophies. After watching him on Friday against the Pirates, does anyone doubt that Verlander will throw another no-hitter, and probably several more?
The Tigers drafted Verlander number two overall in 2004. He was their prize for their awful 2003 season. The team almost didn't sign him. A contract dispute left the two sides far apart as they approached the deadline. Luckily, his dad stepped in and helped to work out a deal. When asked, at the time, what other pitcher Verlander reminds him of, Dave Dombrowski said Nolan Ryan. I've got news for you, he's better than him, too. Sure, both guys could hit triple digits on the radar gun and throw no-hitters, but it's Verlander who racks up the wins and keeps runs off the board. Ryan is the all-time leader in walks. Out of his 27 seasons in the majors, Ryan won 20 games just twice. Ryan pitched forever, and so will Verlander. Verlander, like many other hard-throwers before him, will last a long time. He keeps himself in great shape. He's also driven. When he signed his five-year, $80 million contract with the Tigers (underpaid, by the way), he was asked about his career goals. He said he wants to go into the Hall of Fame.
With the way baseball is today, it's tough to say if a player will stay with one team his whole career. I think Dombrowski and Ilitch realize what they have with Verlander. This type of pitcher doesn't just come and go. He's a once-in-a-generation, maybe lifetime, talent.
Let's compare him to the other great Tigers pitchers.
Hal Newhouser: Prince Hal was great. He put up three of the greatest seasons you can possibly fathom by a pitcher. In 1944, he went 29-9 with a 2.22 ERA. He also led the league with 29 complete games, 313.1 innings pitched and 187 strikeouts. He was named the league's Most Valuable Player. 1945 and '46 were similarly impressive. He also led the league in wins and ERA each time, and one more MVP in ‘45. He led the league in wins again in 1948 with 21. He won 200 games with the Tigers. He also has a World Series ring, which Verlander does not. The problem with Newhouser is, a lot of his greatness was accomplished during WWII, when a lot of the great players were away at war. Newhouser couldn't serve due to a heart defect. His run of greatness was relatively brief.
Mickey Lolich: If you had one game to win, you'd want Lolich to be the man on the mound. He was the MVP of the '68 series, throwing three complete games. He's borderline Hall of Fame material, but won't ever make it. Lolich is certainly great. Verlander will need a run of outstanding seasons to knock him out of the record books. Lolich is the Tigers all-time leader in strikeouts, starts and shutouts. He's also third all-time in wins with 207.
George Mullin: Who? Oh, let's see… number two all-time in wins (209) and number one in innings pitched. He is also one of three Tigers to have won at least 29 games in a season (Newhouser and Denny McLain). Mullin threw the Tigers first ever no-hitter in 1912. He won 20 or more five times. He was the ace of the greatest pitching staff in Tigers history, leading them to the World Series in 1907, '08 and '09. He was a fantastic pitcher, but Verlander will crush just about any stat he has in the books.
George Dauss: Yes, he's the Tigers all-time leader in wins, but he's also number one in losses (182). He wasn't much better than a .500 pitcher for many years. However, he won 20 games or more three times. Dauss never pitched in a World Series, and never led the league in anything but earned runs and batters hit by pitches.
Finally, Jack Morris: Morris was the best big-game pitcher of his era. He was the
winningest pitcher of the 1980s. He is fifth all-time in Tigers history with 198 wins. He was a bona fide ace on the 1984 team, considered by some one of the greatest in baseball history. Morris has a (six walk) no-hitter to his credit. He should be in the Hall of Fame, and might get there, eventually.
Let me be clear about one thing, Verlander isn't there yet. I'm just saying he'll get there. To be the greatest ever, he needs to win a World Series. When his career is finished, you can open a Tigers record book and his name will be at the top of nearly every column. Don't believe me? In the year 2028, on Justin Verlander day at Comerica Park, as they retire the number 35 and unveil the statue, I'll be the one saying "I told you so." Verlander is very well appreciated in Detroit, no doubt. But let's realize what we're witnessing. In this 112 year-old franchise, he's the greatest ever.