On the day it was announced that he had won the American Leagues Cy Young Award, Justin Verlander told a funny story that described how his teammates regard him.
Miguel Cabrera, the Tigers lighthearted but heavy-hitting first baseman, romped through the clubhouse wearing a Superman cape.
Verlander, in Cabreras view, was baseballs version of Superman this season.
Verlander was super good in 2011. He wasnt just the American Leagues best pitcher. He was the best player in baseball -- a dominating winner who brought an electric power charge to the stadium with every pitch he threw.
Verlander should be the winner when the American League's Most Valuable Player is announced on Monday. The reason is simple: He is.
No player was better, or more valuable to his team, than Verlander was to the Tigers.
On the checklist of what determines a players value, Verlander has a check mark by every category.
Performance: He was 24-5.
Impact: The Tigers won the Central for their first division title since 1987.
Reliability: He led the league in every worthwhile pitching category.
Alas, Verlanders chance to win the MVP Award is weakened by exposure to Kryptonite in one area that has nothing to do with the sterling resume he compiled in 2011.
There is a bias among the baseball writers who vote for the MVP. They are reluctant to vote for pitchers, under the theory that the Cy Young is the best and most valuable player at their position, and that the MVP should go to an every-day player.
I understand the logic, but the voters should understand when to make an exception. And Verlanders performance makes him an exception.
Among the players most often regarded as MVP candidates, only Verlanders season was memorable. For the rest of this decade, every pitcher will be measured against what Verlander did in 2011.
Well look back at 2011 as Verlanders season. For the others, it will be a season when a bunch of guys had really good years.
Adrian Gonzalez and Jacoby Ellsbury of the Red Sox, Jose Bautista of the Blue Jays, Curtis Granderson of the Yankees and the Tigers Cabrera had good seasons, but none had a decade-defining season.
Verlander won the pitchers triple crown, leading the American League in wins (24), strikeouts (250) and earned run average (2.40). You can throw in a couple more categories that Verlander led -- innings pitched (251) and the statistic of walks and hits per innings pitched (.92).
In other words, he allowed less than one base runner for every inning he pitched.
Verlander didnt compile garbage statistics. He pitched and won when it counted, going 9-0 in the last two months of the season to lead the Tigers in their walk-away with the Central title.
Every time a slight crack opened in the door that might let some team creep up on the Tigers, Verlander took the ball and slammed it shut.
He was often good, usually great -- and sometimes better than that.
Verlander overpowered hitters he couldnt fool and fooled the ones who wouldnt be overpowered. If they were catching up to a fast ball that he routinely threw in the 95-97 mile-an-hour range, he could pump it to 100 miles an hour or a tick higher to quash a rally in the eighth or ninth inning.
Verlander rose to every moment all season.
He threw his second career no-hitter, on May 7, and came back six days later to hold the Royals to two hits over eight innings in a 3-1 victory.
In a mano-a-mano matchup of Cy Young candidates on July 31, Verlander allowed one hit and no earned runs over eight innings in a 3-2 win over the Angels and Jered Weaver, who finished second in the Cy Young voting.
Nothing Verlander did should discount what other players did.
Cabrera led the league in hitting with a .344 average and in doubles (48). He had 30 home runs and 105 runs batted in and wasnt close to leading the league in either category.
Gonzalez was second in hitting (.338) and RBI (117). Ellsbury was fifth in hitting (.321) and had another outstanding season in the field. The Red Sox missed the playoffs with an historic September collapse. That should diminish Gonzalez and Ellsbury as candidates.
Bautista led the league with 43 home runs, but Toronto never was never in playoff contention.
Granderson hit 41 homers and led the league with 119 RBI, but he struck out 169 times and hit only .262.
No other pitcher has a claim on the MVP. Verlander was in a class by himself there.
Based on performance, Verlanders biggest opponent is the historical bias against pitchers.
Since the Cy Young was introduced in 1956, only nine pitchers have won the MVP -- six in the American League, three in the National.
Two Tigers have won the MVP -- starter Dennis McLain in 1968 and reliever Willie Hernandez in 1984.
In the American League, Roger Clemens was the last starter to win in 1986. No other pitcher has won since Dennis Eckersley, a relief pitcher for Oakland, in 1992.
History is a mighty force. It carries a lot of weight and influences a lot of opinions.
In this years MVP voting, there is one deserving way to break historys grip.
Vote for Justin Verlander -- baseballs best player in 2011.