Tigers reflect on Verlander's impact in Detroit

McCann: 'Something he brought to this city was hope'

Tigers reflect on Verlander's impact in Detroit

DETROIT -- Justin Verlander spent 12 years marching through Comerica Park into the Tigers' clubhouse on days he pitched, headphones over his ears, eyes glaring ahead, his focus so tuned that no one dared disturb him until he reached his locker.

As Tigers players arrived Friday morning, there was a similar quiet, but for different reasons. No longer will Verlander march through in preparation to pitch. After nearly two months of speculation whether he had made his final start as a Tiger, his early Friday morning trade to Houston made it real.

"It's a bummer," said Daniel Norris, who lockered next to Verlander for the past year and a half. "The [Justin Upton] trade, too. It's tough to see them go, but I think that's what they're dialing in right now."

It's the youth movement, the rebuilding process. Players had heard about it since last fall; some had discussed it with general manager Al Avila. The July trades of J.D. Martinez, Justin Wilson and Alex Avila set it in motion, but trading an All-Star in Upton and a franchise icon in Verlander hammered home the point.

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They've lost prominent players in the past -- the end-of-July trades of David Price and Yoenis Cespedes two years ago come to mind -- but not since Ivan Rodriguez was traded at the 2008 non-waiver Trade Deadline had the Tigers lost a player of such prominence to the franchise and the city in midseason.

"I don't know that anybody could predict that two of our best players would be gone by midnight at the end of August," Ian Kinsler said. "I don't know if that's ever happened. It was a monumental day."

Verlander was the longest-tenured Tiger, but it was more than longevity with him. His arrival in the Majors, his rise to greatness, his American League Most Valuable Player Award-winning season in 2011 and his association with the franchise's decade-long era of contention coincided with the revival of Detroit.

"Whenever his career ends, he will be looked at as a Detroit Tiger," manager Brad Ausmus said. "He had a tremendous run here. He's one of the best pitchers in the game and has been since he stepped foot on a Major League field. It's not easy to trade a guy like that, who's really an organizational icon."

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Catcher James McCann was only around for the last few years of it, but he has been around long enough to recognize it.

"Something he brought to this city was hope," McCann said. "It was a city that had been down in the dumps, sports teams had struggled here for several years, and the economy, and all of a sudden you have this young Verlander show up. All of a sudden, they're playing for a World Series, and he's won Rookie of the Year, then they've won four AL Central titles in a row.

"He's a guy that, whether he meant to or not, brought hope back to the city of Detroit. He was the face of this organization for all that time."

He was also an anchor of a clubhouse that changed around him over the years. Several star players came and went, including Upton, but the one player with anywhere near Verlander's tenure in Detroit is Miguel Cabrera.

Verlander's departure, along with Upton's, left an equal sense of who's gone and who's next. Asked about being part of a rebuilding process, Kinsler -- also in trade rumors since last fall, but still a Tiger with a club option for next season -- was honest.

"I mean, I'm here for a month. I don't know what's going to happen beyond this," Kinsler said. "I'm fine with it. I have no problem being part of a rebuilding team, if that's what the Tigers wish. I don't know what they wish. I have no problem trying to pass along my experience to the younger players."

More likely, the Tigers will continue to explore potential trades with Kinsler and others this offseason. Whether Kinsler is around or not, Detroit has an adjustment to make in what will be an increasingly younger clubhouse, with players such as McCann taking on bigger roles.

"I think there's a lot that I can bring," McCann said. "I have several years under my belt now. I've played alongside the guys that have now been traded away. I know how they went about their business. I know the tradition of the Old English D. At the same time, I'm still part of that youth group. A lot of these younger guys in the clubhouse, I either played with or I knew them in the Minor Leagues before I did get up here."

Shorter term, the Tigers still have a month of games to play. And Kinsler expects them to compete in those.

"Regardless of who has the ball or who's hitting third or who's hitting fourth, there's still a Major League game to be played," Kinsler said. "Obviously, it's a different situation in here. We all know that. But there's still a game to be played. There's still pitches to be thrown. There's still outs to get. The game doesn't stop. There's a whole month left of games.

"As far as being competitive, we don't lose that. We don't lose sight of being competitive. We're still competitive people by nature, and we're going to do what it takes to try to win a game today."

Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and Facebook. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.