If Verlander's Astro Career is Over, It Was a Success

Justin Verlander could benefit from a much shorter MLB season in 2020.
Justin Verlander could benefit from a much shorter MLB season in 2020. Photo by Jack Gorman
On Saturday, Justin Verlander revealed on Instagram that he would need to undergo Tommy John surgery on his pitching arm. After what had seemed to be a successful and speedy recovery from a forearm strain early in the season, he felt discomfort throwing in a simulated game that will require the operation.

Because the recovery time for this surgery is typically 12-14 months, not only will the veteran right hander miss the rest of this season, it's likely he will miss all of 2021 as well. Given that he is a free agent after next season, it is likely (though certainly not a done deal) his career in Houston is over.

In the world of sports, it is typical to frame news like this in a way that only accentuates the negative. And to be sure, this is a huge blow to both Verlander, who will be 38 when and if he is able to return to the mound, and the Astros, who are clinging to a playoff spot in the expanded playoffs. It's particularly painful for the team considering they gave Verlander an extension worth $66 million this season and next.

But rather than focus too much on what this means for the Astros future — there will be plenty of time to dissect that in the coming days and weeks — this is more about the past and just exactly what the lock Hall of Fame pitcher means to the organization and the city.

It's difficult to imagine Verlander as a Detroit Tiger, but that is precisely where he spent the vast majority of his career. It's also tough to picture one of the best pitchers of his generation never winning a World Series. But that also was true until the literally-second-to-go deadline-day deal that brought him to Houston. Since arriving in Texas, his life has gone pretty well.

He married Kate Upton, who gave birth to their first child in 2018. He won a Cy Young Award, threw a no-hitter, pitched in two World Series, winning one, the first ever championship for the Astros franchise. He was also part of the team with the best record in franchise history. So, it's been a pretty good three years for the team as well.

If someone told you in 2016 that the Astros would win a World Series and win 100 games in three straight seasons after trading for Verlander, but it would mean losing in the playoffs the two years following (including a brutal title series where the home team LOST every game) and cost the team $66 million in salary over two years Verlander wouldn't pitch, would you still take it? We bet the answer is yes.

Sports fans spend their entire lives hoping for a championship for the teams they love, especially those who have rarely tasted success. Most fans, rightfully so, would sacrifice just about anything for it. For those who watched the Rockets win a pair of titles in the '90s, no doubt many of them would still have wanted them if they knew the team wouldn't win another one for a quarter century (and counting).

So, if you are tempted to bemoan the loss of the Astros ace, just remember what he helped deliver for the city in a year we were devastated by Hurricane Harvey. Remember how good that felt. And remember that you literally love Justin Verlander. That's more than most of us could hope for.
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Jeff Balke is a writer, editor, photographer, tech expert and native Houstonian. He has written for a wide range of publications and co-authored the official 50th anniversary book for the Houston Rockets.
Contact: Jeff Balke