There is no doubt that the Houston Astros ace pitcher Justin Verlander is one of the great moundsmen of our era. He proved it again on the first afternoon of September by no-hitting the Toronto Blue Jays, 2-0, in a dramatic game at Toronto in which the only runs were scored on a two-run ninth-inning homer by the rarely used first baseman Abraham Toro.
Verlander was exuberant after the game as well he should have been. His second no-hitter was also pitched at Toronto in 2011 when he was still a member of the Detroit Tigers. In a post-game on-field interview he said he was glad that his former Tigers teammate Don Kelly, now the Astros first base coach, could be there.
Unfortunately, to me some of the glow of Verlander becoming only the sixth pitcher in MLB history to throw three no-hitters is dimmed because he has recently acted very boorishly. When the Tigers in a rare 2019 victory beat him on a ninth-inning home run, JV threw a Trumpian fit after the game. He wanted Detroit beat writer Anthony Fenech thrown out of the clubhouse. Evidently he didn't like something Fenech had written.
In a subsequent start, JV got thrown out of the game by the plate umpire for profanity. He thought the ump had missed a call on a pitch. When his next pitch got ripped for a double into an outfield gap, he blew his stack at the ump. The score at the time was 9-0 Houston.
I thought Verlander understood some of the basics of how to behave on the field. I have a pleasant memory of a Memorial Day at Yankee Stadium a couple of seasons ago when JV tipped his cap to booing Yankee fans after he shut down the Yanks down for almost seven innings.
I also remember vividly after Verlander got knocked out of a playoff game in Baltimore in 2014 - the last season that the Orioles seemed a legitimate contender - someone in the crowd held up a big sign: KATE UPTON IS HOT; VERLANDER IS NOT. (For those not in the celebrity sports cycle, supermodel Upton is now the wife of JV.)
I have never bought the line that athletes should be "role models". At best they should be seen as "craft models" that work their butts to attain excellence. The great ones sustain excellence by continuing to work their butts off.
Yet since athletes are more than ever constantly present in the public eye, there should be a code of minimally decent behavior. I sure hope JV doesn't sink below this standard again.
At a much more tragic level, it is now clear what I had long suspected. An autopsy of the late Angels pitcher Tyler Skaggs, 27, found dead in a Texas hotel in early July has shown that he died of a fatal combination of alcohol, opioids, and fentanyl, a drug of a far greater potency than heroin.
I think of all the players who wore Skaggs' #45 on their caps and uniforms. Ditto the gesture of players three years ago, displaying the #16 of the late Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez who died in a Miami boating accident that took the lives of two of his friends.
Please, players and fans. Think of your departed heroes as craft models not role models. And never forget: "There is no wealth but life."
Back next time with I hope less tragedy on the agenda, and a look at the playoff scrums in both leagues with the Yankees and Dodgers clearly pennant favorites but hardly shoo-ins.
Always remember: Take it easy but take it.