SAN DIEGO — Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander are forever connected in the annals of baseball history, two names on the short list for the best pitcher of their generation, righthanders with three Cy Young Awards each, teammates on stacked but championship-less Tigers teams a decade ago and, now, again with the Mets.
But that doesn’t mean they’re best friends.
In agreeing Monday to come to Queens on a reported two-year contract worth about $86 million, with a vesting option for a third year, Verlander also agreed to reunite with Scherzer, an in-house rival with whom he didn’t always get along in their first go-around together.
In their Detroit days, Scherzer and Verlander were known to be wildly competitive with and sometimes critical of each other, professional but intense, close in talent but not in rapport, people who knew them then said this year in interviews with Newsday.
Nobody described bona fide hatred or a dynamic that was harmful to the clubhouse. But they weren’t always the most compatible.
“Let’s say they butted heads,” said Dave Dombrowski, the Tigers’ general manager at the time. “It was never a bad butting. It would be more from a competitive perspective — which isn’t always bad. ‘OK, you pitched, now I’m going to be better than you.’
“I don’t think they were two who went out a lot with one another, that type of [social, friendly] situation. I’d say the competitive aspect is the way to describe it. They were not the best of buddies, but I didn’t have any problems with them.”
Added Gerald Laird, a catcher for both, later emphasizing a lighthearted nature to it: “[Scherzer] and JV were real big drama queens. It was always an argument — not an argument, but they would always get at each other’s throats in the clubhouse . . . But I loved it. Because they pushed each other and pushed each other to the point where now you’re seeing two Hall of Famers.”
Or as Alex Avila, another backstop, put it: “Obviously, two Type-A personalities. There were times not all of us got along at the same time.”
Scherzer and Verlander were rotation-mates for a half-decade, from 2010 to 2014. When Scherzer joined Detroit — from the Diamondbacks in a three-team trade that sent Curtis Granderson to the Yankees — he had not yet emerged as an elite pitcher, having just completed his first full major-league season. Verlander, about a year and a half older, was a two-time All-Star and former Rookie of the Year.
Verlander won his first Cy Young (and an MVP Award) in 2011. Scherzer matched him in 2013.
The Tigers won four consecutive AL Central titles and made it to the World Series in 2012. They lost in the ALCS on two other occasions.
Their twin aces (as well as former Cy Young winner David Price and future Cy Young winners Rick Porcello and Robbie Ray during their tenures that all overlapped in 2014) were huge reasons for that success.
“Honestly, I think they both wanted to be our No. 1, and at that time I think 'Ver' was a little more polished early on and Max started taking off,” Laird said. “Every start, they would always nitpick on this and that. To the point where they were both so good, they could throw the wrong pitch and it works out. The good ones, they have four good pitches. They’re always talking game-calling and game situations and pitches. I’m like, ‘Guys, you guys can do things different than other pitchers can do. You can throw any pitch at any time and it can work out because you have four plus pitches.’ They never resolved [disagreements].”
Avila said: “Even at times when they were going at each other, it wasn’t out of dislike or anything like that. It was a difference of opinion. Sometimes because their styles were different, that’s what the result would end up being. It was a really good working relationship.”
Mets catcher James McCann, who was around during spring trainings and had a cameo in the majors late in 2014, described them as “ultra-competitive” no matter the activity or topic, be it baseball, poker or pickup basketball.
“Without coming out and saying it, you could tell they competed with each other,” he said. “That’s just who they are, their DNA. You put both of them in the locker room together and yeah, they’re going to compete with each other.”
That’s what the Mets are doing, albeit at a different stage of their careers and lives. Scherzer and Verlander each have added two Cy Youngs, gotten married and become a father since they last played together.
“The team needed both of them,” Avila said. “To a certain extent, they needed each other in order to be able to achieve the goal we wanted to achieve.”