The Detroit Tigers lost the 2012 World Series, somehow, despite holding a sabermetric edge over their opponents. The Tigers had an age-29 Miguel Cabrera in their lineup, not to mention an age-29 Justin Verlander leading their rotation. In the peak of their primes, statistically speaking, these two Tigers each had won the Triple Crown in either 2011 or 2012. Think about that for a moment.

The 2012 Detroit roster also included first baseman Prince Fielder (6-time All Star and 2-time Home Run Derby champ), and starting pitchers Max Scherzer (2013 AL Cy Young, 2017 NL Cy Young, 2018 NL Cy Young, and 8-time All Star), Rick Porcello (2016 AL Cy Young), and Anibal Sanchez (2013 AL ERA title). We’re really not sure how it lost, although … then again, we are sure. Sadly.

It was a defining loss for the Tigers, as they haven’t been back to the Series since; basically, the roster aged and faded quickly after this upset. In fact, Detroit’s last postseason appearance in 2014 ended in a sweep at the hands of the Baltimore Orioles, of all teams. Since 2014, though, we’ve seen Cabrera and Verlander’s career take divergent pathways to their age-39 seasons, the current one going on right now.

Cabrera

He last hit .300 for a full season in 2016 at age 33, and the last time his OPS was over .800 was in 2018 at age 35. What we’re seeing with Cabrera is the natural aging process, proven statistically over decades of analysis and research into performance trends over MLB history. He is now 39 years old, and while he earned his 3,000th hit this year to secure his Hall of Fame credentials, Cabrera is now a slap hitter.

With just a .285 average and 3 home runs as of July 22, Miggy is aging gracefully and accepting his slow decline into the horizon of professional baseball’s eternal sunset. We respect that. The Detroit organization still owes him $32M for 2023, and at that point, we should see Cabrera retire and wait for his Cooperstown invitation. While never a glove artist, he is the best hitter of the 21st century.

Verlander

The mound ace also started a slow decline, somewhat parallel to Cabrera’s, with the Tigers. After posting a combined 2.52 ERA in 2011 and 2012, Verlander started to see his ERA steadily climb higher over the next few years, with some peaks and valleys included. By 2017 at age 34, Verlander had a 3.82 ERA in 172 IP with Detroit. The team decided to trade him to the cheatin’ Houston Astros in late August.

At the time, the star pitcher still was owed $112M through 2021, and the Tigers saw the writing on the wall. They barely got anything in return for him, in truth, talent wise. The Detroit organization just saw that ERA rising and cut bait. However, after joining the Trashstros, Verlander discovered the Fountain of Youth and posted a 2.45 combined ERA over 477 IP from September 2017 through to July 2020.

That’s an incredible return to prominence for a guy who was 34-37 years old at that point, considering his career ERA with the Tigers was 3.49 over his “best” seasons. We know the Houston organization enabled sign stealing to benefit its hitters, but what was it doing to aid its pitchers? There probably should be an MLB investigation there, too, for obvious reasons.

Regardless, Verlander suffered a catastrophic injury—somewhat like this guy, yet at a much older age—after 1 start in the Covid season of 2020, and he ended up missing the entire 2021 season, at age 38, due to the injury. He has returned this season, at age 39, to post an insane 1.86 ERA over 116-plus IP this year with Houston through July 23. That is not natural, especially coming off an injury at his age.

Comparison and Conclusions

What we see now with these two Detroit legends is both the willingness to go with the flow naturally—and a distinct unwillingness to go gently into that good night. Cabrera is doing this right way, and Verlander is doing this the wrong way. They were teammates once in Detroit, but here’s to hoping they won’t be side by side in Cooperstown, too.

In fact, if we look at the biggest cheater in MLB history, we see a similar path: In 2005 at age 40, Barry Bonds suffered a bad injury that shortened his season to just 14 games. And then he came back the next two seasons to post 54 more HRs and an OPS well over 1.000 in 256 games before retiring at age 42. Verlander is doing him several better, of course, with an ERA that low (although his K rate is way down).

However, we know, as with Boston and San Francisco, Houston is a pathetic sports city. The fans there will tolerate cheating if it helps them finally win something, and they will defend their players illogically even when presented with clear facts. Verlander surely chose his trade destination carefully with his own ethics in mind, while Cabrera decided to stay in Detroit and do things the right way, morally and soundly.

Remember this when the time comes for Verlander’s Cooperstown judgement.