IN THE LAST SEPTEMBER, WITH As the anniversary of Tommy John’s surgery approached, Justin Verlander wanted to introduce. Even though his rehab wasn’t complete, although the tendon that tied the bones of his elbow still hadn’t turned into a ligament, Verlander approached Houston Astros management with an idea: He could throw an inning and see how things were going.

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The Astros were evasive. They survived the season without him and eventually made it to the World Series. According to Verlander, the surgeon who performed the operation, Dr. Keith Meister, was much more precise. If Verlander wanted to walk away in a blaze of glory, of course he could. If he chose to keep betting for years to come, he would be an idiot if he tried.

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“Everyone around me,” Verlander said, “was saying, ‘Hey, big guy, appreciate the try, but don’t be a stupid dog.’

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Now 39 years old, Verlander understands his limitations. He’s obsessed with baseball—its details, rhythms, subtleties, down to the laces on the ball—and the first hand surgery of his long career took him out of the game every day.

“I haven’t watched a single baseball game in a long time,” he said. “I couldn’t. Why put a carrot in front of a horse? It’s like dogs that love to run and they’re trained to chase that damn rabbit. If I’m one of those dogs and I… I have a bad leg, I won’t fucking open the gate.” and I won’t put the rabbit right there. What should I do? I’m going to fucking run.”

Verlander was finishing his Cy Young Award-winning season in 2019, still in the prime of his career at a time when most of them are long gone, ready to play well into their 40s. million dollars, he asked himself: is it worth spending the next 18 months trying to play baseball again?