When he was in Little League, Justin had trouble knowing where the ball was going when it left his hand.
"I was throwing off a 45-foot (away) mound, and parents got so mad because I used to his so many kids," Verlander said. "Kids would start to cry on deck before facing me. In one game, I hit the same kid in his first two at-bats. He quit baseball after that game. Thankfully, in the next couple of years I started throwing strikes."
When Justin was growing up in Manakin Sabot, Virginia, population 4,043, he watched the Orioles.
Verlander has since moved to Goochland, Virginia, a much bigger (ahem) city of 16,863. Justin says it is an "everybody-knows-everybody-town. There's a lot of farmland. A restaurant there has the Verlander Burger, but they didn't consult me before they made it. It has raw onions and tomatoes, and I don't like either one."
- Verlander has always had an incredible right arm. "When he was 9 years old, we were throwing rocks into a pond," his father Richard recalls. "I picked up one and threw it as far as I could, which was about halfway across. Justin picked up a rock, and he threw it all the way across to the other side."
Now, Verlander can throw a baseball on a line from end zone to end zone on a football field. (Will Kimmey-Baseball America-4/12/04)
To say that Verlander is a creature of habit doesn't give him enough credit. He's a champion at it. It's the way Verlander's parents got him to focus his talents as an energetic kid growing up in Virginia, and the way he built his game and become most of the most formidable competitors in any sport today.
"He likes order, structure," his mother, Kathy, said during the summer of 2012. "And so that's the way we parented him."
In 2003, Verlander led the Colonial Athletic Association with a 1.90 ERA and had 139 strikeouts—setting a new Old Dominion school record. And he set a school mark with 17 strikeouts against James Madison.
In 2004, he broke his own Old Dominion strikeout record, with 151, and also set a new Colonial Athletic Association record. He was 7-6 for the third straight year to go with a 3.49 ERA. However, he had two more appealing stats. He set a school record with 151 strikeouts in 105 2/3 innings this season after fanning 139 over 116 1/3 innings as a sophomore.
"Here's a side not for you," Justin said. "In college, I walked a lot of guys. I walked the same amount of guys every year in college—43 guys, three years in a row. Consistent!" he says, laughing.
CONTRACT NEGOTIATIONS WITH THE TIGERS
In June 2004, the Tigers took Jason with their #1 pick (and the second pick overall in the draft). But in October 2004, the Tigers broke off all negotiations with Verlander.
"I am very, very disappointed," Tigers scouting director Greg Smith said on October 14. "We are notifying Justin that, per our discussions and where we are, we are withdrawing all our offers. We do not have any plans of signing him. This is no ploy."
Smith said the gap between the sides on Verlander's signing bonus was "substantial," even though the Tigers significantly improved their original offer. Based on the bonuses that the Tigers and other clubs have given high first-round picks in recent years, it's reasonable to believe Detroit offered Verlander close to $3 million, if not more.
Finally, on October 22, 2004, Verlander signed a five-year contract with the Tigers and scout Greg Smith. It was worth around $4.5 million. It included a $3.12 signing bonus. It was only after his father, Richard, became involved. Justin's father, a union representative, said his background in negotiations came in handy, and that helped restart talks between the sides.
"I just felt like that had been missing, and I wanted to reach out to the Tigers myself," Richard Verlander said. "We knew that Justin wanted to be a Tiger, and after the draft, we were prepared to just let the process run its course. Never did we think that things would get to the point where the offer is being withdrawn."
Richard Verlander said Milchin still was his son's agent, but he wouldn't discuss what he thought of the agent's role in the stalled negotiations. Why didn't Verlander's father handle negotiations from the start? "I know I'm too close to the situation," he said. "Generally a doctor's patients aren't his own family."
When Justin was in the 10th grade, he made a deal with his friend, Daniel Hicks.
"I wanted a chocolate milk that cost 50 cents, and I didn't have the money. So I said, 'How about I give you one percent of my pro signing bonus if you give me 50 cents now?' He found a napkin, wrote it up, and I signed it. I forgot about it, but after I signed, he comes over and whips out this old napkin. I'm like, 'Oh my God!' My bonus was three-point-something million. "Was a chocolate milk worth $3,000? I want to say yes. I was parched," Verlander said. (Ben Reiter-Sports Illustrated-5/28/07)
In 2005, Verlander led the minors in ERA (giving up only one run in 33 innings at Double-A Erie), started the Futures Game in Comerica Park, and made his Major League debut at Jacobs Field on Independence Day.
During the off-season before 2005 spring training, Baseball America rated Verlander as the third best prospect in the Tigers organization. But before 2006 spring camp opened, they ranked him as the #1 prospect in the Detroit farm system.
Justin enjoys playing golf in his spare time.
In 2006, Verlander was named the American League Rookie of the Year.
Verlander's June 12, 2007 no-hitter was the first for the Tigers since Jack Morris threw one on the road in 1984. But Justin became the first Detroit Tiger pitcher to throw a no-hitter in Detroit since Virgil Trucks did it on May 15, 1952. Trucks, who turned 90 in April 2007, presented Justin with a award prior to the Tigers' game against the Red Sox on July 8, 2007. Joe Ginsberg, who was the catcher for Trucks' no-hitter, was also there to present Pudge Rodriguez with an award for his part in the historic outing.
Justin Verlander's younger brother Ben joined him in the clubhouse on June 17, 2007. The two share a common bond: They both threw a no-hitter in 2007. Ben, who was 15 years old at the time, threw his for the Goochland High School (Va.) junior varsity team against Amelia County High School. He was asked to compare that with the elder Verlander's, which came against the Brewers.
"I didn't need any great diving plays," he said. In case a little joking from his brother wasn't enough, there was also another incident earlier Monday. While walking with teammates Magglio Ordonez and Zach Miner, the three were stopped by a security guard who asked to see their IDs. Ordonez and Miner had theirs, but Verlander didn't. The man who was the talk of the nation just one week ago wasn't recognized by the guard. After a couple minutes, he was allowed to rejoin his teammates, but not without another round of joking. "I guess a no-hitter doesn't mean anything to these guys," Miner said. (Michael Phillips, MLB.com, 6/18/07)
Justin Verlander's first no-hitter didn't go unnoticed in the nation's capital.
President George W. Bush hosted Verlander in the White House's Oval Office on Wednesday afternoon. The two talked for about 20 minutes, with the main topic of conversation being baseball.
"'I was very nervous before I went in there,' Verlander said. 'I mean, you're visiting the President in the Oval Office. But he was a very personable guy, and it was a very natural conversation.'
"The nation's leader is also a huge baseball fan, dating back to the days when he owned the Texas Rangers. He spoke knowledgeably with Verlander about several members of the Tigers, and congratulated the pitcher on his no-hitter, saying that he was able to watch portions of the game.
"He also asked about the current Tigers who were part of his Texas team, including Kenny Rogers and Ivan Rodriguez.
" 'He's a huge baseball fan,' Verlander said. 'He really knew who everybody was. We talked about baseball and about our team, and he knew pretty much everybody on the team.'
The afternoon visit began with Verlander eating lunch with a friend of his in the White House mess hall. He said the food was prepared by one of the White House chefs, and was "unbelievable."
"We went in, he talked a little bit about the Oval Office, some of the history and the paintings and the desk he has," Verlander said.
Verlander received a few souvenirs from the day, including a photo of him and the President, a tie clip, and golf balls with the Presidential seal. (Michael Phillips, 6/20/07, MLB.com)
Justin says he chose uniform number 35, "because of Frank Thomas. When I was a kid (in Manakin Sabot, Virginia, population 3,800), the first time I had to pick my number was in Little League. There was a box of jerseys, and the coach goes, 'All right. Who wants what number?' I settled on Thomas because he could hit, and he's one of those guys everybody likes."
Once Verlander got ot Goochland High, however, he had to rethink the 35. "The numbers didn't go that high," Justin said. "I had number 4." The high school retired that uniform #4 because of his high school exploits.
"When I got to the Majors, I was number 35 again," Verlander said. "And when I face Frank (Thomas) for the first time, it was a full-circle moment. I stepped off the emound and was like, 'Holy crap!' I got him out (on a fly to center). My girlfriend got me an autographed bat of his, to symbolize how it's come full circle." (Sports Illustrated-8/06/07)
People that know Justin know he drives really fast. Where does he take his Porsche to drive fast?
Laughing, Verlander says with a laugh, "Uh—the track? It just depends when I feel like going fast. I try not to get caught." How fast have you been? "175," Justin said. Where? "Don't worry about it," he responded.
Teammate and good friend Jeremy Bonderman was interviewed by Steve Greenberg of The Sporting News during 2010 spring training, and said, "The thing is, Justin doesn't care what anybody thinks of him. I'll say it—he's really cocky; but he's cocky all the time, whether he's pitching great or struggling. As much as you might want to ride him for it, he's not one of those people who's going to change who he is just to please other people. It's one of the things I like about him most.
"During the spring, we eat dinner together, go golfing, play paintball. We drive to a theme park in Orlando and go on this slingshot ride and a big free-fall ride. We hang out off the field probably four times a week," Bonderman said.
"I absolutely will not ride in Justin's car. He drives crazy—he has that need for speed. He loves his Porsch. I think I value my life a little more than he does right now," Jeremy said.
"Justin works harder than anybody I've ever met. When he runs, he pushes himself to the point he almost pukes. When he lifts, he gets so focused an intense. From the day he got to the big leagues, he's said he wants to be a Hall of Famer. That's confidence. No one has more of that than Justin."
Justin threw his second no-hitter against the Toronto Blue Jays on May 7, 2011. (Associated Press 5/7/2011)
On May 16, 2011, Verlander announced the creation of Verlander's Victory for Veterans program. Verlander will use his personal suite at Comerica Park to host local veterans who suffered injuries serving in Iraq or Afghanistan, as well as their families.
"He wants to ... commend and congratulate and honor the sacrifice and dedication that all of our veterans have shown, [those] recently returning from Iraq and Afghanistan," Tigers president/general manager Dave Dombrowski said. "And for everything that they do for our country, he's here to thank them through this program."
"Thanks to the Tigers organization and Mr. [team owner Mike] Ilitch, I have the opportunity to have a suite here at the ballpark," Verlander said. "And the first time I had the opportunity to use the suite, my girlfriend Emily, did, it was one of my first starts here at home, and it didn't go very well. So me and Emily, both being somewhat superstitious, decided that that's never going to happen again. The suite is not going to be used on my start days."
While on the field just before a game, Verlander continued, he noticed the recent Tigers tradition of having a veteran bring the game ball to the mound and be recognized by the crowd. It's a cause that hits home for him becuase he has a cousin, Christopher Verlander, deployed in Afghanistan. His grandfather, Richard Verlander, is a World War II veteran.
"We decided that it would be a good idea to let them use the suite on days I'm not using it," Verlander said. "Why not, just to say my appreciation and say my thank-you? The feedback we got was tremendous. I got so many letters and responses, not just because of the injured veterans or whoever was using the suite at the time, but their families as well. They got to share this moment with their family, which is not something that happens very often."
The result was a formal program. The suite holds about 18 people, which allows for up to three veterans and their families to use it for a game.
In 2011, Verlander won the American League Cy Young Award by a unanimous vote.
And a week later, after weeks of controversial conversation, it was announced that Verlander was the American League MVP also—the first starting pitcher in a quarter-century to win the MVP. The A's Dennis Eckersley won the MVP in 1992, but Boston's Roger Clemens was the last starting pitcher MVP, back in 1986.
Justin received 13 of 28 first-place votes. Boston's Jacoby Ellsbury was second, followed by Toronto's Jose Bautista.
Richard and Kathy Verlander were finishing a book, Rocks Across the Pond, while Justin was months away from putting the finishing touches on a glorious season for the Tigers.
"After I retired in January 2011, we started speaking to a lot of youth groups, young athletes, and their parents," Richard Verlander said. "We noticed that there's a lot of information available for athletes in regards to the game—like playing and lessons and getting better. But we often lamented the fact that there wasn't more in the way of a roadmap for parents.
"So we thought this would be a great opportunity to share some of our stories and ideas with other parents coming along with kids, but not necessarily just all baseball players."
Richard and Kathy Verlander's other son and Justin’s brother, Ben, recently completed his sophomore season at Old Dominion and will be playing summer ball for the Staunton Braves of the Valley Baseball League. (June 2012)
In 2012, Verlander was getting around in a Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG with a 563-horsepower 6.2-liter V8 engine.
Verlander's cuisine of choice the night before he pitches for the Tigers. His order from Taco Bell is three crunchy taco supremes, a cheesy gordito crunch, and a Mexican pizza, no tomato-never varies. And the level of his performance the next day rarely does either.
March 2013: Justin's historic futility at the plate is contrasted, however, by his collegiate brother's recent power explosion. Playing for Old Dominion University (which is Justin's alma mater as well), Ben Verlander went 4-for-4 with three home runs in ODU's game against Northeastern.
April 1, 2013 was Verlander's sixth straight Opening Day start.
Verlander has been known to blurt out exclamations in frustration on the mound. He does it the first time he takes the mound during spring training workouts, so of course he’s going to do it during a game. His parents got him to cover his mouth with his glove when he can so that lip-readers can’t pick it up on TV.
Former Red Sox and current MLB Network personality Kevin Milar says Justin is the best non-PGA golfer he has ever played with.
The hitter in the Verlander family paid a visit to Comerica Park late in May, 2013. It wasn't a pre-Draft workout for Old Dominion slugger Ben Verlander, whose three-homer game put his name in scouts' notebooks. Instead, it's a week to visit his big brother along with their parents while the Tigers are home.
It also was an opportunity for more hitting work with Tigers hitting coach Lloyd McClendon, who helped the younger Verlander on his swing last summer.
"Coach McClendon has really helped me with my swing a lot," young Verlander said. "I came up here last summer (2012) and took it into this season. He helped me a whole lot. Just coming back and being able to work with him in the cages and getting out on the field with him is great."
Being able to rub it in to his brother might be even better. He just finished his junior season with a .367 average, 11 home runs and 44 RBIs, earning him all-conference honors. Three of those homers came against Northeastern on March 9, which had Justin Verlander gushing.
"I actually haven't given him any grief about it," Ben Verlander said. "He's actually been the one. I read in an article that he admitted I was the better hitter. He's never admitted I was the better anything, so to see that was pretty crazy."
To see people suggesting that the younger Verlander could get a hit in the big leagues before his big brother is crazier.
"That's kind of the family joke now," he said with a laugh. "I still like to give him a hard time about it." (Jason Beck / MLB.com / 5-23-13)
Justin bought his father his dream car (Corvette). His father then purchased a license plate for it that read " MVP Dad."
Verlander has in his lucky past a rumored romance with supermodel/board-certified attractive American lady Kate Upton.
Justin finally received his Lamborghini Aventador Roadster in 2014. He had paid almost $400,000 for it. The max speed is 215 mph. "I've been waiting for it for like two years, so when I got it, I was like a kid at Christmas," Verlander said. He also has a Mazarotti.
August 2014: Tigers players usually spend the third weekend in August trying to avoid the traffic of the Woodward Dream Cruise. Verlander, an avid car collector, apparently took a drive right in the middle of it.
Verlander tweeted a video from Instagram from what looks like his orange Lamborghini driving down Woodward Avenue and looking at the classic cars in the cruising lane. He has been looking for a classic American muscle car.
The Woodward Dream Cruise is an August tradition in the suburbs north of Detroit. Hundreds of thousands people gather as classic car enthusiasts come in to drive their prized vehicles down Woodward, honoring a tradition that goes back to the 1950s and 1960s. The Dream Cruise runs through the suburbs of Birmingham and Royal Oak, where several players stay during the season. (Jason Beck - MLB.com - 8/16/2014)
September 3, 2014: Verlander has addressed the nude photos of him and girlfriend Kate Upton that were allegedly hacked from an online in an account posted on the Internet. Justin declined comment on the situation.
Verlander has been a noted workout fiend ever since he broke into the big leagues for good in 2006. He also has been meticulous about his workouts, taking note of how he feels physically as each season goes on and then adjusting his offseason program to address changes. Part of that comes from his parents, who used the daily routine to channel his energy in school.
March 31, 2016: Justin used to threaten his younger brother, Ben, about what would happen if they ever faced each other. "I've always told him my whole life I'm going to hit him," he joked.
Instead, it was the other way around, with the younger Verlander getting big brother for a home run in a Minor League game.
"I thought about throwing behind his back," Justin Verlander said, "but I decided to throw him one down the middle instead. I'm sure he'll enjoy that for a long time." (Jason Beck - MLB.com - March 31, 2016)
On a night marked as one of the biggest dates on the New York social calendar: the Met Ball, the annual fundraising gala for the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Costume Division, Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour has run the event since 1995, and everybody who's anybody gets an invite -- a ticket will cost you $25,000. Among this year's guests: Kate Upton, model, actress and Justin's longtime girlfriend/culinary spirit guide.
Kate was wearing something conspicuously shiny on her left ring finger - it's official, Justin and Kate are engaged to be married. (Landers - MLB.com - 5/2/16)
March 18, 2017: The Tigers have had a month at Joker Marchant Stadium to get ready to take the field again. Their guests couldn't have waited that long. Perry, a 3-year-old poodle up for adoption, was excited enough at the Grand Slam Pet Adoption that he was standing on his hind legs to greet anyone who stooped down to say hello. He had three interested suitors before he stepped on the field, where his small accident coaxed a laugh from the crowd watching.
Charlie, a 4-year-old Boston Terrier mix, was much calmer but clearly loved the attention as Tigers players, stadium workers and passers-by fell for the kind eyes. Soon enough, Tigers pitcher Justin Verlander and supermodel Kate Upton, Verlander's fiancée, gave him a hug.
Chiclet, a tiny Chiahuahua, was small enough for Verlander's father, Richard, to easily cradle, but big enough to catch the attention of Justin Upton's young daughter Sydnee. She would reach out from a distance, only to bring her hand back in when the dog would sniff. Eventually she felt comfortable enough to pet it.
Twenty-three dogs and counting had a chance to not only roam right field at the ballpark, but ideally find a forever home. The annual event, co-hosted by Verlander and Upton for three years running, helps raise awareness for the benefits of pet adoption through SPCA Florida as well as the K9's for Warriors project that finds companion animals for veterans dealing with the effects of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Traumatic Brain Injury from recent military service.
One such dog on display was Mac, a golden retriever who had just been connected with a needy home.
"It was a great event, obviously some great causes," said Verlander, who tossed five scoreless innings in the split-squad Tigers' 5-4 win over the Marlins after the event. "I think as with any event, it's growing and getting better and better. It seemed like it was a big step up this year, and it's exciting to be a part of."
Both causes are close to Verlander's heart. He grew up in a military family and founded the Wins for Warriors foundation years ago to help veterans who faced trauma adjust to life back home. He also grew up around dogs.
"I had dogs since I was born," Verlander said, "and I adopted my current dog when I was in college, my sophomore year. He's still kicking. He's doing good."
That dog is Riley. When Verlander and Upton became a couple, he also became part-caretaker of her dog, Harley, who has become somewhat famous through Verlander's Instagram posts. (J Beck - MLB.com - March 18, 2017)
June 2004: The Tigers drafted Verlander in the first round, out of Old Dominion University.
October 22, 2004: Verlander signed a five-year contract with the Tigers and scout Greg Smith. It was worth around $4.5 million (more details above).
January 20, 2009: The Tigers ($3.2 million) and Verlander ($4.15 million) filed for salary arbitration.
On February 3, 2009, Justin and the Tigers agreed on a one-year, $3.675 million, avoiding arbitration.
February 3, 2010: Verlander signed a five-year, $80 million contract with the Tigers.
March 29, 2013: Verlander and the Tigers reached agreement on a new contract that could exceed $202 million. Justin would have been eligible to become a free agent after the 2014 season.