DETROIT — It’s said that you’re judged by the company you keep, and Tigers teammates Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlander might soon join a very select circle.
If third baseman Cabrera wins the American League Most Valuable Player award Thursday night, it would come one year after pitching ace Verlander received that honor. The duo would be only the fourth pitcher-position player teammates in the league to win it in consecutive seasons.
The last to do so were Brewers closer Rollie Fingers and shortstop Robin Yount, in 1981-82, when Milwaukee still resided in the AL. Philadelphia A’s starter Lefty Grove and first baseman Jimmie Foxx turned the trick in 1932-33, and the first accomplish the feat were Washington Senators starter Walter “Big Train” Johnson and shortstop Roger Peckinpaugh, 1924-25.
Five of those six are Hall of Famers, and the only player not in Cooperstown, Peckinpaugh, was one of the oddest MVP selections of all time after hitting just .294 with four homers and 64 RBIs.
Peckinpaugh aside, that’s a pretty select group, and it could be an omen of things to come for Cabrera and Verlander. Both are under 30 and already generally accepted as the best hitter and pitcher in the game.
If Cabrera were to duplicate the stats of his first 10 seasons and retire at the age of 39, he would end up with 624 homers, 2,246 RBIs and 3,604 hits. Those are first-ballot Hall of Fame numbers and then some. If Cabrera attained those totals, he would trail only Aaron (2,297) in RBIs, and place fifth all time in hits and sixth in homers.
Verlander is 124-65 with a 3.40 ERA and 1,454 strikeouts after seven full seasons. If he continues on his average pace of 17.7 victories and 206.7 strikeouts per season for 10 more years and pitches through age 39, Verlander would have 301 wins and 3,521 strikeouts. That would get him to the victory plateau that normally assures Hall of Fame induction. He would place him ninth on the strikeout list, just ahead of “The Big Train” himself.
Detroit has won back-to-back MVP awards twice. Pitcher Hal Newhouser won it in consecutive seasons, 1944 and 1945, and catcher Mickey Cochrane took the prize in 1934 followed by first baseman Hank Greenberg in 1935. All three are in the Hall of Fame.
Will Cabrera edge Angels center fielder Mike Trout for MVP to give the Tigers back-to-back winners once again?
Trout, the AL Rookie of the Year, appeared to be the favorite in August but then he faded somewhat while Cabrera got extremely hot.
Cabrera has let his Triple Crown speak for itself. He batted .330 with 44 homers and 139 RBIs, and scored 109 runs. He also led the AL with a .606 slugging percentage, .999 on-base plus slugging percentage and 377 total bases. The Tigers won the Central largely due to his heroics.
Trout led the league with 49 steals and 129 runs. He hit .326 with 30 homers and 83 RBIs, but his Angels finished third in the West.
“Trout is the best player in the American League this year,” Larry Bowa said on the MLB Network. “But, in my opinion, he is not the most valuable. That’s Cabrera.
“Mike Trout is the best player in the American League, and Ryan Braun is the best player in the National League. But Buster Posey is going to win the MVP in the National League, and Miguel Cabrera is going to win the MVP in the American League.”
MLB Network’s Harold Reynolds chimed in: “To me, you win the Triple Crown …”
Reynolds then paused, pounded the table with his hand and added, “Trump card!”
How members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America voted (two reporters from each AL city rated players on a 1-through-10 ballot) won’t be revealed until 6 p.m. Thursday on the MLB Network.
If Cabrera wins, it would be fitting for Verlander to share an immediate high-five and a hug with him.
Verlander, born two months before Cabrera in 1983, has been Cabrera’s biggest supporter and MVP lobbyist. Remember the blue T-shirts Verlander had printed up with the message “Keep the MVP in the D. Miguel Cabrera 24” and the Twitter photo of Verlander wearing it?
Cabrera, after hitting a pivotal two-run homer in the clinching game of an ALCS sweep of the Yankees, wore his cap backward and stood in the outfield during a postgame TV interview. He looked up at the delirious Comerica Park crowd and shouted, “Yeah, we did it. It’s an unbelievable feeling. DEE-TROIT!”
Verlander came up from behind and playfully grabbed Cabrera’s head like a basketball, with both hands. Verlander then backed off to wave a fist and exclaim, “M-V-P!”
Gregoria Cabrera stood outside the Tigers clubhouse amid the postgame celebration and could not stop smiling about her son’s big game and even bigger season.
“I am so proud of Miguel,” she said. “I am hoping so much for the MVP.”