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Scherzer honored with jersey retirement

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Fifteen years ago in Columbia, a 19-year-old pitcher from Chesterfield walked into the locker room at Taylor Stadium for his freshman season at the University of Missouri. The young right-hander wasn’t even able to choose his own jersey number.

After 11 years in the major leagues, three Cy Young Awards and a pair of no-hitters, Max Scherzer still wears No. 31. And officially, as of Friday night, no Missouri Tiger will again.


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Missouri Biographies

Scherzer, the first-ever first-round MLB Draft pick out of Missouri, may go down as the Tigers’ best professional player — in any sport. At Friday’s press conference at Memorial Stadium for his jersey retirement at Mizzou, Scherzer expressed his gratitude for the honor.

“It’s something that you don’t anticipate,,” Scherzer said Friday. “So when I did get this call...it puts a big smile on your face and you realize what it means to you.”

Now 34, the Washington Nationals ace, who spent three years at Missouri from 2004-06, didn’t expect to have his jersey retired — he was drafted and left for pro ball before finishing his degree.

“I’d always heard that you needed to finish your degree to have it retired, and I completely respected that decision,” Scherzer said. “The fact that they’re still going to retire my number in spite of that, that’s a huge honor and something that I’ll always be grateful for.”

Only three jersey numbers have been retired by Missouri baseball — John “Hi” Simmons’ No. 34, Gene McArtor’s No. 33 and Phil Bradley’s No. 15. Scherzer shouldn’t be surprised that his has become the fourth — his numbers speak for themselves.

The righty put up a sub-2.00 ERA in his sophomore and junior seasons at MU, winning the Big 12 Pitcher of the Year Award in 2005 and leading the conference in ERA in 2006. The Arizona Diamondbacks snagged him with the 11th pick of the 2006 draft, but Scherzer was dealt to Detroit after a so-so 2009 season. He took off from there.

Scherzer starred with the Tigers, winning the AL Cy Young Award in 2013 and finishing in the top five in 2014. He repeated as Cy Young winner in the National League with the Washington Nationals in 2016 and 2017, coming close to a third straight win in 2018.

And he credits MU for delivering him on the path to baseball stardom.

“This is really the ground zero of what it took to become a Major League Baseball player,” Scherzer said. “What it took for me to become, a kid that came in here as a raw recruit into a guy who could pitch in the major leagues, it’s that attitude that I developed here with the help of a lot of coaches and teammates that allowed my dream to come to fruition.”

The Tigers’ facilities have improved along with Scherzer over the years, he noted.

“Kind of crazy to see it now to when I was here, and I thought we had great facilities back in 2004, 5 and 6,” Scherzer said. “The athletes here are very well-prepared.”

Taylor Stadium, after all, was renovated in 2010 and again in 2014. It’s different than it was in Scherzer’s days. There are more seats, a new clubhouse, new scoreboards and more.

And come the Tigers’ season opener in late February, there will be one more thing that Scherzer never expected to see: his name and the No. 31, in black and gold, there for good.