Tom Veryzer, native of Islip, New York, and former major league shortstop for the Detroit Tigers, Cleveland Indians, New York Mets, and Chicago Cubs, passed away Tuesday July 8, 2014 from complications of a stroke according to multiple reports on Twitter. He was 61.
Born February 11, 1953, Veryzer grew up in athletic household. His father Tom was a legendary high school coach, his brother John played basketball at Manhattan College, and his other brother Jim was a minor league outfielder in the Tigers system. Veryzer followed in their footsteps as a three-sport standout (baseball, basketball, soccer) at Islip High School, earning all-league honors in soccer, and the Carl Yastrzemski Award his senior year for the best baseball player in Suffolk County. His standout high school performance convinced the Tigers to make him their first round pick in 1971, selecting him 11th overall.
Known more for his glove than his bat, Veryzer sped to the major leagues, making his debut in 1973 after only three seasons in the minors. By 1975, he worked his way into the starting shortstop position with the Tigers. He held the job until he was traded to the Cleveland Indians after the 1977 season, due to the emergence of Alan Trammel.
With the Indians, Veryzer has an instrumental role in one of the organization’s most historic games. On May 15, 1981, Len Barker took the mound on a wet and cold spring evening to square off against the Toronto Blue Jays. The first batter of the game, Alfredo Griffin, chopped a grounder up the middle. Veryzer ranged all the way to his left to grab it, nearly crossing second base while throwing on the run to nab the speedy Griffin by a step.
“I had to come in fast, and I almost ended up at first base myself,” Veryzer said.
Barker did the job the rest of the way, retiring the next 26 batters consecutively for a perfect game.
Veryzer was also connected with his role in another no-hitter, this one earlier in his career while he was with the Tigers. On June 8, 1975, with two outs in the 9th inning, Veryzer was the only thing standing in between Ken Holtzman of the Oakland Athletics and a no-hitter. He sent a fly ball to the outfield that A’s centerfielder Bill North misjudged by initially running in on the ball, only to have it land for a double, spoiling Holtzman’s no-hitter.
Prior to the 1982 season, the New York Mets acquired Veryzer from the Indians for another Long Island native, Ray Searage. Finally, Veryzer was coming home.
”I’m thrilled about the trade,” Veryzer said to the New York Times. ”Nothing could be better than going home to play. I was a regular for four years in Cleveland and I know I have the chance to play here, too.”
Veryzer played sporadically at shortstop, as the Mets were also auditioning current Minnesota Twins manager Ron Gardenhire. Towards the end of May, it looked like Veryzer’s fortunes were turning around, as he hit .400 against Houston in three consecutive starts. The Mets kept him in the lineup for the next series against the Atlanta Braves, and Veryzer continued his hot streak the next day with another 2-for-4 performance to finish with a .390 average for the month of May.
The change of the calendar from May to June signaled the end of Veryzer’s good luck. In the 5th inning of the June 1st contest against the Braves, Veryzer broke his left leg when he was taken out on a force play at second base by Claudell Washington. He missed the next three months of the season, returning for a few at-bats in September.
Sadly, it was Veryzer’s last shot in New York. The Mets, who also had Jose Oquendo in the pipeline found Veryzer to be expendable and in 1983, sent him in a trade to the Chicago Cubs. He played two more seasons with the Cubs, which included an appearance in the 1984 NLCS against the San Diego Padres.
Veryzer finished his career with a .241 batting average in 996 games. He was inducted into the Suffolk County Sports Hall of Fame in 1995.