Green: Scherzer's snub sealed his fate in Detroit

Jerry Green
The Detroit News
One year ago this month, Mike Ilitch approved an offer of $144 million to cement Max Scherzer to the Tigers for six years. The offer was rejected.

The pitcher had wiggled out of a bases-loaded jam with two strikeouts and a line drive to center in a critical playoff game. He spun around and bounced off the mound. He pumped his fist toward the heavens. And then he walloped his teammates with a series of monstrous high-5s, shrieking in triumph.

This was Max Scherzer in the climax of his finest season — a 21-game winner, recipient of the Cy Young Award. And a fabulous, rich future.

The video images went from coast to coast, from channel to channel. They displayed Scherzer at his best. They found a niche on You Tube, treasured for eternity.

And watching them you believed that he would pitch for the Tigers into eternity.

Those were human emotions. Joy in triumph. Max's overwhelming display of his joy was understandable at the moment.

But emotions are common to all people. And some people do not display them as openly as Scherzer did that October afternoon in 2013 when he rescued the Tigers, in relief, from the brink of playoff elimination by the Athletics.

Mike Ilitch is private and he is proud. Winning means just about everything to him. It has since he and Marian, his wife, blended some flour in a pot of water and created a pizza mixture that would turn into heavy millions.

Winning has meant everything since Ilitch founded the Detroit Caesars and bought himself a championship softball team stocked with guys who won the 1968 World Series with the Tigers.

Mike wasn't as private back then in the 1970s. His enthusiasm was on display. He loved the concept of buying star athletes and building teams and winning championships. He did it with the Red Wings. He won pennants for the Tigers.

But it is my theory — a theory given momentum by decades of observation — there is one human value more precious to Mike Ilitch than winning.

And that rare, supreme value is pride.

Feelings of rejection

One year ago this month, Ilitch approved an offer of $144 million to cement Scherzer to the Tigers for six years.

The offer was rejected. Scherzer, the projected Tiger for life, turned down the money and the security. He and his slick agent, Scott Boras, gambled that there would be more money offered and more security in a year. All Scherzer had to do was keep winning. He did. And escape injury. He did.

Scherzer won the gamble. And all summer there had been hopeful musings that the Tigers at the end of the 2014 season would cough up a larger offer.

Mike Ilitch and the Tigers were not interested in moving higher than their original offer for Max Scherzer.

But you don't reject Mike Ilitch. You don't snub him. You don't scoff at Ilitch's generosity.

This is, repeating, is my theory based on what I have known of Mike Ilitch through the years.

Ilitch, an ex-Marine, is stubborn and he is savvy.

You don't stamp on Ilitch's ego. Even the best pitcher in the American League, advised by the shrewdest player agent in the business, could never get away with insulting Ilitch.

The Tigers themselves, via Dave Dombrowski, said that they did not enter the auction for Scherzer when he hit free agency at the end of the 2014 season.

"I think we've made it clear that we have not been pursuing the situation," Dombrowski told The News' Chris McCosky after Scherzer agreed to sign with the Nationals in January. "We've said it numerous times . . .

"We made a real run at Max last spring and it didn't work."

Matter of time

Simply, Scherzer was gone — gone from the Tigers a year ago spring training. A lame-duck pitcher for a season after ticking off Ilitch. He was gone ultimately to Washington for the stunning $210 million covering seven seasons.

Still, Scherzer's actions remain vivid. He quite obviously loved Detroit. His emotions might as well have been tattooed onto his pitching arm. But Scott Boras, in the agent's line of business, cannot afford to display emotions.

Ilitch never cared to match the Washington offer. The guess here is if the Tigers had made a matching offer a couple of months ago, Scherzer would have grabbed it. Even if the Tigers came somewhat close the Nationals' jackpot, Scherzer, I reckon, would have grabbed less money in defiance of Boras.

I doubt that Scherzer, the lame-duck pitcher with the high emotions and the high performance level, ever suspected that the Tigers would refuse to participate in Boras' postseason auction.

The Tigers kept their secret — that they would refuse to make a follow-up offer — throughout the entire schedule. It was a summer of speculation and rumors — and yes, theories.

My theory is, "Goodby." You don't dare to rankle Mike Ilitch. Farewell!

Jerry Green is a retired Detroit News sports writer.