If you’re someone that appreciates good people that are good for society, then you have to be a fan of Adam Wainwright the person. There isn’t a St. Louis athlete who has done more off the field since 2005 than Waino, and his presence in the community continues to grow.
Adam Wainwright the pitcher has been a Cardinal stalwart since ’05. We’ll always appreciate the final outs of the 2006 NLCS and World Series, the four top-three Cy Young finishes, the two nineteen-win seasons and the two twenty-win years. But sadly, like with so many proud competitors, the stretch run of Waino’s career isn’t pretty. On Sunday, he walked a career high six batters and threw 79 pitches…41 of them balls…in two and third innings. Afterward, he admitted that he had re-aggravated an elbow injury suffered originally last year, and then aggravated earlier this season.
Wainwright said he had warmed up well, and hoped he could maintain that level by staying in the game and not telling Mike Matheny or Mike Maddux. He thought he could still pitch. After the game, he said “If I’m able to go out there and make pitches and put my arm in a position to where it’ll allow me to execute, then I’ll take my chances against anyone.”
The problem is that after eighteen seasons of pro baseball in which he’s thrown more than 2,700 innings, it doesn’t appear he can put his arm in that position any more. At nearly 37 years old, Wainwright is similar to so many great pitchers who reflect the bible verse Matthew 26:41, where Jesus tells his disciples: “the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” All of those innings, all of those pitches and all of those injuries appear to have gotten Wainwright.
It’s happened to the best of them. 39-year-old Bob Gibson went 3-10 with a 5.04 ERA for the 1975 Cardinals. Red Schoendienst put Gibby in the bullpen, and he made just fourteen starts and threw 109 innings. To this day, he insists that he was the best starting pitcher on that team. Former Cardinal Steve Carlton was released by the Phillies at the age of 40 in 1986 after a 1-8 start that came with 84 hits and 53 walks in 92 innings. Carlton’s pride told him he could still do it, and finally the game retired him after he played for five teams in three years and never recovered his old form.
Tom Seaver kicked around from a return to the Mets to the White Sox to the Red Sox, getting hit hard toward the end of his career. He still had the belief that he could be great. Randy Johnson went to the Yankees, back to Arizona and finished up in San Francisco with some bad seasons, compiling a 4.88 ERA in his final year, with the Giants. Greg Maddux went to Chicago, the Dodgers, the Padres and back to the Dodgers at the end of his career, finishing up with an 8-13 record and a 4.22 ERA in 2008.
Wainwright insists that he’ll never pitch for another team other than the Cardinals, and at this point the franchise has given him every opportunity to be available. He bounced back from his 2015 Achilles injury to give them 198 innings in 2016. But last year he had an ERA of 5.11 and was injury plagued, and this year he’s on to his third injury stint and can’t seem to stay healthy.
After Sunday’s abbreviated start in San Diego, Wainwright said “I need to pause and get it right. This team deserves more than that (2 1/3 innings) and the fans deserve more than that and the organization does too. If I’m going to be a force down the stretch, I need to be able to get healthy first. Luckily we have tons of guys that are primed and ready for this position.”
That’s a point that the Cardinals and Wainwright need to take into consideration. At his age, and with his mileage, when does it become more prudent to give pitchers like Jack Flaherty, John Gant and pretty soon Alex Reyes their opportunities.
Wainwright is a fantastic leader and is a great person to have in the clubhouse and the dugout to mentor those kids. But time and injuries have caught up with and passed Wainwright. Just like his mentor, Chris Carpenter in 2012, Wainwright has an injury ravaged body that probably won’t allow him to compete at the level he THINKS he can compete at.
The Cardinals need to be honest with themselves and with Wainwright, and find a way to ease him aside. Those two World Championship rings are a fine reminder of his greatness. He’s a guy that was a number one or two starter for three playoff teams, and came out of the bullpen in 2006 and 2015. As great as he has been as a Cardinal and as a St. Louisan, it’s not fair to the team, the organization, and most importantly Wainwright, to allow him to continue to go to the mound and struggle.
This injury first manifested itself last August in a game against Atlanta. Wainwright made two more starts after that game, and had surgery in October. After an off-season of rehab, he’s still talking about trying to get healthy. While we all hope for a return to form, we all know better. We’ll never see the old Adam Wainwright again. As hard as it is, it’s time for Wainwright and the Cardinals to recognize that and find out which young pitchers are going to become the next Adam Wainwrights and Chris Carpenters.