DETROIT — The Detroit Tigers announced Wednesday afternoon that Tom Veryzer, their light-hitting shortstop in the early 1970s, had died on Tuesday. He was 61.
If you’re a long-time Tigers fan, it’s virtually impossible to think of Veryzer without Frank Tanana immediately coming to mind. Detroit drafted Veryzer out of Islip (N.Y.) High School with the 11th overall pick in the first round of the 1971 amateur draft. The California Angels took Tanana out of Detroit Catholic Central two picks later.
Veryzer batted .231 with 10 homers and 112 RBIs for Detroit in 1,183 at-bats from 1973-77, and played through 1984 for the Chicago Cubs, Cleveland Indians and New York Mets. He finished with 687 career hits and a .241 average.
Tanana pitched until he was 40, going 240-236 with a 3.66 ERA and 2,773 strikeouts. The only left-handers with more strikeouts are Randy Johnson, Steve Carlton and Mickey Lolich.
Veryzer’s best year was 1975, when he hit .252 with 13 doubles, five homers and 48 RBI. That was the year Tanana led the American League with 269 strikeouts and had a 17-strikeout game. He also was 19-10 with a 2.43 ERA in 1976.
Tanana was one of the best pitchers in baseball in the mid-1970s, making three All-Star teams and finishing in the Top 10 of Cy Young Award voting three times.
Fortunately for the Tigers, they acquired him from the Texas Rangers in 1985 for Duane James, a pitcher who never made it to the majors. Tanana was 96-82 for Detroit, 1985 to 1992, and pitched the memorable 1-0 shutout over the Toronto Blue Jays that clinched the 1987 division title. After arm problems, Tanana re-invented himself as a junk ball pitcher with a great curve and lasted 21 seasons.
The draft was not the heavily-scouted and metrics-impacted production it is today, and all 24 players taken in the first round were from high schools.
But while the Tigers might have missed on having Tanana in his prime, they also missed on future Hall of Fame outfielder Jim Rice — the 15th overall pick by the Boston Red Sox. Every team missed on a pair of future Hall of Famers in that first round. George Brett and Mike Schmidt were taken in the second round.
While Tanana over-shadowed Veryzer, consider that five players drafted ahead of Veryzer never even made it to the majors. So, while Veryzer never made an All-Star team or came close to greatness, he did last 12 years in the majors.
Veryzer is survived by his wife, Vivian, and three daughters.
Viewing will be Thursday at Overton Funeral Home, 172 Main St., Islip, N.Y. A Mass and cremation service will be held at St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church in East Islip, N.Y.