According to the world's standards of leading a successful, happy life, Justin Verlander had it all. In 2011, he became the ninth player in baseball history to win a league MVP award and the Cy Young award in the same season. In 2013, he signed a 6-year, $120 million contract. As if that wasn't enough, along the way he started dating Kate Upton, the most renowned SI swimsuit model of her generation.
He was one of the most successful, wealthy people to ever live, and he was depressed. A lack of flexibility in his lower body led Verlander to rely more and more on his shoulder to deliver 100-mph fastballs, and his shoulder was breaking down. At age 31, Verlander thought he would never pitch again.
In a profile with Bleacher Report, Verlander explains how Upton extracted him out of his depression.
He knew he would need surgery on his shoulder. Meaning that, at 31, he could be done. “I really thought it was the end,” he says.
But just as Verlander was falling apart, he was also falling in love. And that helped him cope with his troubles.
“She was instrumental in me not…like, jumping off a bridge,” he says. “I was depressed and kind of just upset at the world and trying to hide my own shit.”
Upton understood him. And she had a combination of qualities that could help him through his ordeal.
“Fuck, man,” he says, voice shaky. “She was what I needed.”
Not many people in the world could comprehend what he was going through. But she was there to listen, to help him.
“I don’t like to talk to people about being hurt. As athletes, you’re not supposed to. It’s an excuse. … But she was someone I could talk to. I mean, basically a therapist,” he says. “Somebody I could trust with … worries about my career. Worries about, Can I make it? Worries about what I’m going through to get back. And just the overall shittiness of it all.”
Verlander eventually recovered enough to become the 2017 ALCS MVP and help the Houston Astros win last year's World Series, but that's not the moral of the story here. It's that identity is not found through accomplishment, and that depression is an equal opportunity disease.
If depression can get to Justin Verlander, it can get to anyone.