At the 20th annual ESPY Awards on Wednesday, July 11, the greatest moments, teams, stories and athletes will be honored for their achievements over the past year. One award in particular remains a very contentious topic: who was the best male athlete of the last calendar year?
Possible winners include tennis star Novak Djokovic, Miami Heat forward LeBron James and Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers. However, the most deserving of the the nominees is Detroit Tigers pitcher Justin Verlander.
Verlander's Tigers posted a 95-67 regular-season record and made a playoff run before losing to the Texas Rangers in the American League Championship Series. The 29-year-old ace may have not led his squad to a 2011 World Series title, yet his impact on the Tigers was second to none.
In 34 starts, the hurler pitched 251 innings, won 24 games, notched a 2.40 ERA and struck out 250 batters—clinching the triple crown of pitching. The 24 victories put Verlander in elite company. Not since the Oakland A's Bob Welch in 1990 has a pitcher won at least 24 contests, according to ESPN.com.
His fantastic year earned him the American League Cy Young and Most Valuable Player awards. Verlander became the 20th pitcher to win the MVP award and the first starting pitcher to do so since Roger Clemens in 1986, reports Tyler Kepner of the New York Times.
On May 7, 2011, the 6'5", 225-pound flamethrower tossed the second no-hitter of his career as he allowed just one walk. The shutdown performance exemplified all that the Old Dominion product did last year: baffle his opponents.
A season for the ages, Verlander was worthy of all the praise he received. However, the other male athletes in the running for an ESPY won't make it easy for him.
According to CBS Sports, Rodgers was named 2011 AP Male Athlete of the Year. Out of 212 ballots, Rodgers walked away with 112 votes, Verlander was second with 50 votes and Djokovic placed third with a tally of 21. That should be an early indication of how things will pan out for Verlander come Wednesday.
And after James hoisted the NBA Finals trophy in June, his odds of winning the Best Male Athlete award increased exponentially. James was named NBA Finals MVP, after taking home the same accolade for his regular season triumphs.
Unlike Rodgers, Djokovic and James, Verlander didn't win the greatest prize of them all over the last year. That doesn't help his odds, yet it's unfair for that to derail him from winning an ESPY.
Jon Paul Morosi of Fox Sports discussed all that is Verlander:
At 29, he’s in the early stages of his prime. Last year, he became the first pitcher to score the MVP/Cy Young double play since Dennis Eckersley in 1992. He threw his second career no-hitter. He pitched his team to the division title. He went with the open-collared look on “Conan” and told the country about his pregame Taco Bell superstition. He co-starred in commercials with Sports Illustrated swimsuit model Kate Upton, in conjunction with his MLB 2K12 cover appearance.
Verlander is one of the biggest names in baseball — on and off the field — even though he plays for a team rarely associated with Hollywood or Madison Avenue.
Justin Verlander undoubtedly had a fantastic year. Even if he doesn't win an ESPY, that doesn't mean he isn't deserving of one.