Tom Veryzer got into 996 big-league games from 1973 through 1984, mainly as a shortstop. He didn’t provide much offense, hitting just .241 with 14 homers, but in those days, one could still hold down a starting job at short at the top level on the strength of sound fielding. Veryzer was solid enough to start more than 100 games in a season five times, albeit not for contending teams. He was a quiet and modest man – as one of his brothers observed, “You’d think the guy was a custodian or something. He’s not at all impressed with himself.”1
Thomas Martin Veryzer was born on February 11, 1953, to John Harold and Virginia (née Siebenkas) Veryzer in Port Jefferson, on Long Island Sound in Suffolk County, New York. The family name (pronounced və-RYE-zer) is of Dutch origin. John was named for Johannes Verijzer, who brought his family to the United States in 1887.
John enlisted and served in the US Navy during the latter years of World War II. When Tom was small, John and Ginny moved their family to Islip, on the southern shore of Suffolk County.2 The Veryzers also had three older sons named John Jr., Jim, and Jerry, as well as a younger daughter, Pat.
John Veryzer starred in basketball for the Manhattan Jaspers in the 1940s and was also team captain.3 He went on to become the longtime athletic director at Islip High School. In addition to his duties as the AD, Veryzer was also the varsity basketball coach.
Growing up, young Tom Veryzer was a Yankees fan. His favorite player was Mickey Mantle.4 He started playing baseball at the age of five and moved into the Islip Little League when he was eight. Looking back, though, Veryzer said, “I never thought I’d be a pro ballplayer.”5
An excellent athlete, Veryzer was a three-sport star at Islip High: soccer, basketball, and baseball. He was a member of the varsity squads when he was only a sophomore. In all, he collected 10 varsity letters among the three sports.
Veryzer was a three-season starter at shortstop for the Buccaneers. In 1971 he received the Yastrzemski Award, honoring the top baseball player in Suffolk County.6 Nicknamed “The Fox” by his teammates, Veryzer batted .467 in his senior season with five home runs and 32 RBIs.7 However, it was not just his offensive abilities that made him a star – Veryzer was a slick fielder. As many as seven scouts attended Islip’s baseball games to get a glimpse of the young prospect. One of them was Rabbit Jacobson, Detroit’s scout in the New York/New Jersey area.
On June 8, 1971, the Tigers selected Veryzer with their first pick, 11th overall in the 1971 free agent draft. Veryzer reportedly got a $50,000 bonus.8 Of interest, they passed on southpaw pitcher Frank Tanana, a local prospect from Detroit Catholic Central High School. California selected Tanana two picks later at #13.
Veryzer was also offered scholarships from Florida State and Clemson. Clemson wanted him primarily to play basketball, which was actually his favorite sport as a youth.9
However, he chose to join the Tigers. “My brother Jim played college baseball (Georgia Southern) before turning pro, and then he was considered too old,” said Veryzer. “The Tigers had a lot of other prospects who were younger.”10 Jim Veryzer was four years older than his brother and was then playing at Batavia of the New York-Penn League (Class A).
The Tigers assigned Veryzer to Bristol of the Appalachian Rookie League. Though his offensive stats were modest (four home runs, 20 RBIs, batting average .225) in the short season, Veryzer was named the league’s Most Valuable Player, sharing the award with Yankees farmhand Terry Whitfield. The Louisville Courier-Journal went so far as to say he was rated as the best shortstop in the Appy League since Mark Belanger.11
At age 19, the second-year pro jumped to Montgomery of the Southern Association. He got off to a slow start in 1972 because of an ankle injury that was still bothering him in late May (and contributed to some booing from home fans). He finished the season in Montgomery batting just .221 in 111 games.12
Even so, heading into 1973, Veryzer received accolades from Detroit manager Billy Martin. “This kid is a sensational shortstop,” said Martin. “Veryzer can make all the major league plays now, he’s that good. It’s nice to know he’s sitting down there behind Ed Brinkman.”13 In spring training that year, Veryzer got his biggest thrill courtesy of Martin as Billy invited him to sit in the dugout next to an old teammate: none other than Mickey Mantle.14
Veryzer began the 1973 season at Toledo of the International League (Class AAA). After batting .250 in 94 games, he was called up to the Tigers to replace Rich Reese, who’d been released. Aside from Reese’s poor batting, Detroit reportedly wanted Veryzer for his speed, even though he was dealing with a pulled muscle.15 (Judging by stolen bases, Veryzer was no speedster, swiping just nine in the majors while getting caught 23 times.)
Veryzer made his major-league debut on August 14, 1973, at Metropolitan Stadium. The Twins throttled the Tigers, 12-1. The lone Detroit tally came on an RBI single by the rookie in his first at-bat in the top of the eighth inning. He got into 18 games that year for the Tigers, starting three. The last two of those starts came in a special place for him – Yankee Stadium. They were the final two games for one of baseball’s cathedrals in its original incarnation.
The Tigers farmed Veryzer out to Evansville of the American Association (Class AAA) after spring training in 1974. He posted a career-best .296 average with 11 home runs despite an injury that put him on the shelf for over a month (on June 5, he was hit on the wrist with a pitch). Veryzer credited minor-league hitting instructor Wayne Blackburn with the big improvement at the plate. “I used to swing at a lot of bad pitches, really chased breaking balls,” said Veryzer. “Blackie made me more aware of the strike zone, reminded me to stay back and wait on the ball.”16
Brinkman, a noted glove man, tutored Veryzer on the finer points of playing shortstop at the major-league level. “I used to throw every ball as hard as I could, and I made quite a few throwing errors,” said Veryzer. “‘Brinks’ said that wasn’t necessary, that I should take my time when I can. And he’s giving me tips on playing hitters.”17
Veryzer was called up again to Detroit toward the end of the 1974 season. On September 20 at County Stadium, the Tigers topped the Milwaukee Brewers, 8-5. Veryzer went 3-for-3 with a career-high four RBIs and a home run. Ralph Houk had replaced Martin as the Tigers’ skipper in 1974. The Major went so far as to say, “I wouldn’t trade Tom even up for Robin Yount (then the 18-year-old Milwaukee shortstop). They’re both excellent fielders with good range and great arms and Yount may be more the leader-type. But I think Veryzer will be the better hitter.”18 As it turned out, Yount had 3,142 hits en route to a Hall of Fame career.
The Tigers had won the AL East as recently as 1972 but by then were in full transformation. Many of their players were heading to the end of their careers. Jim Northrup, Mickey Lolich, Bill Freehan, Willie Horton, Gates Brown, Al Kaline, and Mickey Stanley were all household names for Tiger fans. Veryzer, Ron LeFlore, Dan Meyer, Ben Oglivie, and Jason Thompson were being groomed as possible replacements. Detroit general manager Jim Campbell did not hide his belief that the Tigers were a couple of seasons away from contention in the American League East Division. “The thing I don’t like people to do is criticize our farm system when they’ve never seen a minor league game,” said Campbell. “I think our farm system is a helluva lot better than some people think it is.”19 Campbell noted that Meyer, Veryzer, et al. would get a good look before the end of the year.
On November 18, 1974, Detroit traded Brinkman to San Diego with pitcher Bob Strampe and outfielder Dick Sharon for Nate Colbert, a three-time All-Star slugger in sharp decline with chronic back problems. The Tigers handed the starting shortstop position to the 22-year-old Veryzer. Besides their experience at the major-league level, Brinkman and Veryzer differed in another way. Whereas Brinkman was always chattering on the field, encouraging teammates and bantering with opponents, Veryzer was always silent. “I’m not going to go out there and yell,” said Veryzer. “But I do everything I have to do.”20
One of Veryzer’s notable hits came as a spoiler on June 8, 1975, at Oakland. A’s starter Ken Holtzman was hurling a no-hitter heading into the ninth inning. After Holtzman retired the first two Tiger hitters on groundouts, Veryzer stroked a double to center field over the head of Bill North. The only other Tiger to reach base was Gary Sutherland, who’d walked in the fourth inning. “I guess the no-hitter would have meant a lot more to him than it did to me,” said Veryzer.21
Veryzer suffered through multiple injuries in 1975. Against Milwaukee on June 23, a ground ball took a bad hop and hit his right eye. His vision began to cloud. He was fitted with glasses to help his vision.22
Veryzer batted .298 over the last two months of the season to close the year with a .252 average. He set big-league career highs in home runs (five) and RBIs (48). He was selected to the All-Rookie Team by both Topps and Baseball Digest in 1975.
Despite that honor, Veryzer’s offensive output was subpar, even though there were various other weak-hitting shortstops at the time. And columnist Joe Falls of the Detroit Free Press, going by a visual judgment, was not a fan of the Tigers’ young shortstop. In his review of the players, Falls wrote of Veryzer: “This kid plays like a rag doll: Drop him on the field and he’ll just lay there limp all game long. Maybe that’s just his style, or his personality, and nobody, not even Veryzer himself can do anything about it. What hurts is that a good team is supposed to get some pepper out of the shortstop position. Veryzer is a real enigma since he makes the great plays and botches the easy ones. The big hope is that there may be some sting in his bat.”23
As for the Tigers, Jim Campbell was all too accurate. Detroit finished in last place in the AL East with a 57-102 record, a whopping 37½ games behind first-place Boston.
The Tigers improved in the standings in 1976 (74-87, fifth place). One big reason was the emergence of rookie pitcher Mark “The Bird” Fidrych, who went 19-9, led the AL with a 2.34 ERA, and was named AL Rookie of the Year. The quirky, exuberant Fidrych packed Tiger Stadium when he took the mound and drew fans on the road as well. As he recalled in an interview around 2007, “I was driving down to the ballpark with Tommy Veryzer. Tommy says, ‘Well, kid, this is it: Monday Night Baseball.’ [It was June 28 against the Yankees at Tiger Stadium.] We got to the stadium and people are already lined up outside. I couldn’t believe it. Tommy says, ‘They’re not here to see Tom Veryzer play shortstop!’”24 It was a typically self-effacing remark – but it bears mention that Fidrych, as a pronounced groundball pitcher, depended greatly on his infield defense.
On August 16, 1976 – an off-day in the schedule – Veryzer married Vivian Wiebalck, also from Islip. The Tigers team attended the ceremony. An unnamed person quipped, “I wonder if he said, ‘I do’? If he did, it was a major speech for him.”25
Play resumed the next night, so the happy couple could not travel far for a honeymoon. They settled for Cedar Point Amusement Park in Sandusky, Ohio.26 Tom and Vivian eventually had three children: Thomas, William, and Jennifer.
As it turned out, Veryzer would have plenty of time on his hands. On August 18, 1976, the Tigers hosted the California Angels. The Angels won in 11 innings, 5-4, behind Nolan Ryan’s 17 strikeouts. In the bottom of the 11th, Veryzer led off with a single. He was forced at second base by the following batter and tore ligaments in his right ankle as he slid.27 The injury ended Veryzer’s season, giving way to touted prospect Mark Wagner at shortstop.
Wagner’s play impressed the Detroit brass. Reportedly, Veryzer was on the trading block in the offseason. At the very least, Houk was keeping an open mind as to who would be the starter in 1977. Yet both were viewed as disappointments a couple of months into the season.28 Wagner was sent down, and Veryzer went on to start a team-high 115 games at short that year. As it developed, Lou Whitaker and Alan Trammell both made their debuts on September 9, 1977. No one in Detroit could have realized it at the time, but for the next 18 years, they formed the keystone combo at the “corner of Michigan and Trumbull.”
Frank Duffy, Cleveland’s starting shortstop for the past six seasons, filed for free agency following the season. The Indians went on the hunt for a new shortstop. They acquired utility infielder Dave Rosello from the Chicago Cubs on December 5, 1977.
On December 10, the Tigers traded Veryzer to Cleveland for outfielder Charlie Spikes., who had also been a “can’t miss” prospect when the Indians acquired him in 1972 from the New York Yankees. In essence, the deal was an exchange of players who did not live up to the high expectations others had placed on them. “It was a toss-up between Wagner and Veryzer last year,” said Houk. “At the start of the year, we didn’t know which one to keep. But we thought Tommy might come around with the bat, which he never did.”29
Indians utility player Larvell Blanks and rookie Alfredo Griffin competed for the starting shortstop job with Rosello and Veryzer in spring training. As it turned out, Duffy returned to Cleveland before the start of spring training but was traded to Boston before the season began. Rosello and Griffin were optioned to the minors.
Cleveland, much like Detroit, was overmatched in the AL East. New York, Boston, and Baltimore were the top teams while Milwaukee was making steady improvement. If it were not for the expansion Toronto Blue Jays, Cleveland and Detroit would have been battling to stay out of the cellar.
Cleveland manager Jeff Torborg named Blanks as his starting shortstop out of spring training. Blanks hit .260 in April, leaving Veryzer to bide his time as a late-game defensive replacement for the error-prone Blanks.
But as the calendar flipped over to May, Blanks’ bat began to cool, and Veryzer was inserted into the lineup. Torborg was keeping his options open, though, as Cleveland sportswriter Dan Coughlin quipped.
When it comes to shortstop
Torborg isn’t saying.
But his daily lineup,
Says Veryzer is playing.30
“I feel pretty good at the plate, but I don’t feel great,” said Veryzer. “I still have a tendency to stand up straight when the ball is coming, which means I move my head.”31
Veryzer paired with second baseman Duane Kuiper to give the Tribe solid defense up the middle. However, their glovework was not the only contribution they made. Although the duo did not provide power numbers, Kuiper batted .283 and Veryzer .271.
One of Veryzer’s best hitting games of the season came on July 7 at Cleveland Stadium. The Indians nipped the Red Sox, 10-9 and Veryzer matched a career-high with four hits and knocked in two runs. “This guy (Veryzer) wasn’t even in the starting lineup at the beginning of the season,” said Torborg. “In spring training, (Indians GM) Phil Seghi said watch this guy. He can play. He lost 25 pounds over the winter. He gets to a lot of balls other shortstops don’t. He’s the kind of young player you can build around.”32
Veryzer credited Cleveland’s hitting coach, Rocky Colavito, for his improved hitting. “Detroit wanted me to hit home runs, but here, Rocky has been working with me to concentrate on just meeting the ball, making good contact,” said Veryzer. “Torborg has helped by sticking with me, letting me play.”33
Veryzer appeared in a career-high 149 games in 1979 but hit just .220 with a .254 slugging percentage. Thus, in 1980, he faced a challenge for the starting shortstop job from rookie Jerry Dybzinski, a local product from Cleveland. An article from late March opened, “Tom Veryzer does things quietly He speaks softly, he plays shortstop solidly but with little fanfare, and sometimes, alas, his bat is too quiet.” Yet Veryzer was confident, stating, “Why should I worry? If anybody had to feel pressure, it should be [Dybzinski].”34
The 27-year-old veteran did keep his starting job and was batting .303 as of May 31. But a sore left shoulder hindered his season. An arthrogram was ordered; as a result, it was discovered that he had tendinitis. Even though he was given cortisone shots, the pain persisted. He wound up missing a month from mid-July to mid-August and played in just 109 games. When Veryzer was out, Dybzinski shifted back over from second base, where Cleveland had put him after a knee injury ended Duane Kuiper’s season on June 1. “The Dybber” was mostly glove and not much bat, hitting .230.
Veryzer hit .271 again for the Indians in 1980. He had become a dependable shortstop with tolerable batting averages, though his overall offensive production was still below average. Veryzer was a free agent at season’s end, and despite his limitations, Cleveland rewarded him with a five-year, $1.5 million dollar contract.
Veryzer batted .244 in the strike-shortened 1981 season. The team’s most memorable moment that year came on May 15, when Len Barker threw a perfect game against the Toronto Blue Jays. Veryzer handled all three grounders that came his way, including two to start the top of the first. Notably, he nipped Toronto’s speedy leadoff man – his opposite number at short, former teammate Alfredo Griffin – after charging and gloving Griffin’s tapper over the mound.
In the past, Veryzer had often wished that he could be traded to the Yankees or the New York Mets so he could be close to home.35 That happened on January 8, 1982, when Cleveland traded the 28-year-old shortstop to the Mets. In return, the Indians received left-handed relief pitcher Ray Searage. The move was made to clear the way for Dybzinski to start at shortstop, as well as relieve Cleveland of Veryzer’s hefty contract that would pay him $275,000 a year for the next four seasons.
“The number one shortstop job is now up for grabs,” said Mets GM Frank Cashen. “With the trade of Frank Taveras, we were looking for an experienced shortstop to help our young players. I never like to put kids in a sink-or-swim situation. Veryzer provides us with the kind of depth we were looking for.”36
Indeed, Veryzer was batting .375 for the Mets as a backup to starting shortstop Ron Gardenhire. But his season went off the rails on June 1, 1982, against Atlanta. Veryzer was playing second base when the Braves’ Claudell Washington slid hard into him, fracturing Veryzer’s left fibula. He did not return until September 6.
In 1983, Veryzer was having a terrific spring, batting .429 for the Mets with two home runs and 11 RBIs.37 On April 2, however, the Mets traded him to division rival Chicago. The deal was perhaps influenced by Veryzer’s contract, because New York received just two low minor-league players. The New York Times observed, however, that he “was a victim of the numbers game.” Frank Cashen noted, “We were forced to make the trade because we had an abundance of middle infielders.” Veryzer himself said, “’It’s tough leaving. The ballpark [Shea Stadium] was almost next to my house.”38
Veryzer returned to the Cubs in the same capacity in 1984. A renaissance was underway at Wrigley Field; the Cubs won their first ever National League East title. After 11 seasons with teams that were mediocre at best, Veryzer was finally on a winner.
Chicago won the first two games of the NLCS against San Diego. But the Padres stormed back, winning three straight games and their first pennant. Veryzer appeared in three games and went hitless in his only plate appearance.
The Cubs released Veryzer at the end of spring training in 1985 after attempts to trade him fell through.39 Unable to latch on with another team, he retired from baseball.
After his playing days, Veryzer was employed in the Department of Public Works for the Town of Islip.40 His wife, Vivian, worked in the Islip School District as a nurse. In 1995, Veryzer was inducted into the Suffolk County Sports Hall of Fame. Throughout his life, he remained a devoted Yankees fan, watching games with his family.41
On July 8, 2014, Tom Veryzer died several days after suffering a stroke at home. He was just 61. His remains were cremated. On his website, writer Joe Posnanski – who grew up as an Indians fan – provided the infielder’s most in-depth obituary. It concluded as follows.
“Veryzer’s passing wasn’t big news around the country; he wasn’t a good enough player to make many headlines. But baseball fans remember. Veryzer got to ground balls, and he dug in, and he knocked almost 700 hits, and through sheer will he played almost 1,000 games in the major Leagues. He affected my life. I’ve probably said his name five hundred times and written it down another hundred or so in scorebooks and blog posts. … I never spoke with Tom Veryzer. I’ll miss him, though.”42
Myheritage.com and Genealogieonline.nl provided background on the Veryzer family’s nationality.
This biography was developed from a base of research conducted by Joe Wancho. It was reviewed by Paul Proia and David Bilmes and fact-checked by David Kritzler.
1 Tom Lederer, “Veryzer Heads for Home,” New York Times, March 28, 1982: Section 11, 21.
2 Lederer, “Veryzer Heads for Home.”
3 “Basketball Top Topic for Veryzer Family,” Newsday (Suffolk Edition), January 15, 1965: 47C.
4 Steven Marcus, “Tom Veryzer dead, LIer had 12-year career in majors,” Newsday, July 9, 2014.
5 Lederer, “Veryzer Heads for Home.”
6 “’The Fox’ Wins Yastrzemski Award”, Newsday (Suffolk Edition), June 8, 1971: 64.
7 Newsday (Suffolk Edition), June 8, 1971: 64.
8 Jim Hawkins, “Tigers Pass on Late Deals,” Detroit Free Press, June 16, 1971: 1-D.
9 Lederer, “Veryzer Heads for Home.”
10 Pete Swanson, “Tigers’ Brinks Improved Security,” The Sporting News, August 24, 1974: 39.
11 “Slugger Whitfield shares Appalachian MVP award with shortstop Veryzer,” Louisville Courier-Journal, September 7, 1971: 6.
12 Jack Doane, “Players Vote for Veryzer,” Montgomery Advertiser, May 24, 1972: 17.
13 Watson Spoelstra, “Kid Shortstop Veryzer Broadens Bengal Grin,” The Sporting News, January 6, 1973: 34.
14 Marcus, “Tom Veryzer dead.”
15 Jim Hawkins, “Laughs, Cheers Mark Tiger Salute to Cash,” The Sporting News, September 1, 1973: 7.
16 Swanson, “Tigers’ Brinks Improved Security.”
17 Swanson, “Tigers’ Brinks Improved Security.”
18 Swanson, “Tigers’ Brinks Improved Security.”
19 Jim Hawkins, “Campbell Under Fire for Tigers’ Collapse,” The Sporting News, August 17, 1974: 10.
20 Jim Hawkins, “Don’t Blame Quiet Veryzer for Tiger Flop,” The Sporting News, November 22, 1975: 54.
21 Jim Hawkins, “Veryzer’s 2-Out Double in Ninth Spoils No-Hitter,” Detroit Free Press, June 9, 1974: 1-D.
22 Jim Hawkins, “It’s ‘Specs’ Veryzer,” Detroit Free Press, July 2, 1975: 2-C.
23 Joe Falls, “The Falls System Rates the Tigers,” Detroit Free Press, August 31, 1975: 1-C.
24 Greg Eno, “Mark Fidrych Never Stopped Being a Kid, Nor Should We,” Bleacherreport.com, April 15, 2009.
25 “Veryzer Gets Married,” Holland (Michigan) Evening Sentinel, August 18, 1976: 7.
26 Dan Coughlin, “Veryzer is Back in Starting Role,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, May 23, 1978: 2-D.
27 Jim Hawkins, “Veryzer Could be Lost for Year,” Detroit Free Press, August 20, 1976: 1-D.
28 Jim Hawkins, Arroyo Getting Chance,” The Sporting News, June 4, 1977: 40.
29 Jim Hawkins, “Detroit Strengthens Staff with Ex-Brewer Slaton,” The Sporting News, December 9, 1977: 63.
30 Coughlin, “Veryzer is Back in Starting Role,” 1-D.
31 Coughlin, “Veryzer is Back in Starting Role,” 2-D.
32 Dan Coughlin, “Batting Around,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, June 8, 1978: 3-C.
33 Russell Schneider, “Tom ‘The Silencer’ Raises Heap Big Nosie as Indian,” The Sporting News, July 15, 1978: 53.
34 “Veryzer Unruffled by New Challenge,” Marion (Ohio) Star, March 26, 1980: 16.
35 Lederer, “Veryzer Heads for Home.”
36 Jack Lang, “Mets trade for Indian shortstop Veryzer,” New York Daily News, January 9, 1982: 36.
37 Robert Markus, “Cubs bag a shortstop, catcher,” Chicago Tribune, April 3, 1983: 4-7.
38 Joseph Durso, “Seaver Passes Test on Thigh and May Start Opener,” New York Times, April 3, 1983: Section 5, 10.
39 Fred Mitchell, “Cubs Cut Veryzer, 2 Others to Get Within One of Limit,” Chicago Tribune, April 6, 1985: Section 2, 1.
40 Marcus, “Tom Veryzer dead.”
41 Marcus, “Tom Veryzer dead.”
42 Joe Posnanski, “Tom Veryzer,” Joe Blogs (personal website), July 10, 2014 (https://joeposnanski.substack.com/p/rip-tom-veryzer).