ST. LOUIS — Adam Wainwright is going to own a red suit one day.
That is already cemented in stone, an announcement simply waiting for the pitcher to hang up his cleats. Perhaps Wainwright could be the first member to keep pitching even though he sits in a Hall of Fame. He'll get there as a Cardinal when it's all said and done.
But what about Cooperstown? Cardinal Nation asked this recently with Jim Edmonds and Scott Rolen, a pair of great Cardinals who came up short due to overall career statistics or unfortunate injury. Edmonds had a couple very good bursts of MLB action. He put together a six years stretch that is MVP-like. Rolen suffered a shoulder injury with the Cardinals that affected him the rest of his career. Is it the same case with Wainwright?
INJURIES TO BLAME?
For Wainwright, the injury bug will most likely keep him out of MLB Hall of Fame contention. He'll get on a ballot with his two rings, and near 180 career wins with a moderate amount of dominance-but I wouldn't expect an introduction at Cooperstown.
And it's okay. The list of great pitchers who aren't in the Hall runs for miles. A particularly interesting case is Dwight "Doc" Gooden. He spent the majority of his career with the New York Mets, gathering 194 wins and a Cy Young award along with many other trophy accumulations. But his 16-year career is not in the Hall of Fame. A very good pitcher who simply didn't dominate for long enough.
Wainwright was robbed of nearly two seasons by the Tommy John surgery in 2011 and Achilles tendon rupture in 2015. If he gets 15-20 wins in those seasons, he easily over 200 wins at the moment. That win mark would seem to the opening of the conversation for a Hall of Fame stop. 300 wins is a sure thing, but 200 gets the ball rolling for pitchers.
This isn't a shot at Wainwright's career. Talk about a storied trip that should spurn stories and legends for decades to come. Coming to St. Louis in a big trade with the Atlanta Braves as a starter, but hitting it big with the team initially as a closer.
FROM CLOSER TO STARTER
When Jason Isringhausen's hip worsened and his save percentage dropped in 2006, it was Wainwright flying in to the rescue, and throwing the final pitch of the playoffs that year. If anyone forgets to mention Wainwright freezing Carlos Beltran during the NLCS that fall, please rewrite their list for them in a hurry.
2007 found him as a full time starter, and it took two years for Wainwright to become an ace. He won 19 or more games in four different seasons. In three different seasons, Wainwright gave the Cardinals more than 227 innings. He was a boss for five seasons, with the worst one coming right after his arm surgery in 2011.
In four seasons, Wainwright was a top three finalist for the Cy Young award, and he gathered top 20 MVP votes in three seasons. He also owns a 2.81 ERA in 27 career playoff games, 14 of which he started. When the team needed a lift, Wainwright was there.
The Achilles incident really cost Wainwright. The Tommy John surgery was unfortunate and stopped a good run, but he had come all the back from that before the injury in Milwaukee that cracked his career in half. Since that injury, Wainwright has never finished with an ERA below 4.00.
But the good thing is, these days offer a place for pitcher who can keep the number right around 4.00. Right when you thought it was getting real close to the end in 2018, Wainwright made another comeback, the second of his career. After signing a one year contract packed with incentives, Wainwright offered the team 31 starts, 172 innings, and a 4.19 ERA last season. He was also one of the best arms in the playoffs, including 11 strikeouts and just one walk against the eventual World Series champion, Washington Nationals.
Wainwright keeps finding new ways to produce results. He kicked off 2020's weird yet fun season with a win on Saturday afternoon, shutting down the Pittsburgh Pirates for six innings. The only run he allowed, along with five strikeouts and just three hits, came off a generous call from the home plate umpire. Just like he mastered last year, Wainwright is using his location skills and brain to out-think hitters.
Think about it. He's always been a bulldog on the mound, raising the tenacity and no quit limits to the highest levels possible, pushing himself into his 15th year as a Major League pitcher. Wainwright doesn't have the overpowering fastball these days, and his curveball can be deadly but also suddenly become hit and miss in its existence. He's found new ways to get outs in order to extend his career.
So, why talk about the Hall of Fame all of a sudden? There's a variety of ways to answer that question. The first is that, like it or not, Wainwright is near the end. It will be a sad day in this town when he no longer climbs a pitching mound and plays catch with Yadier Molina. Wainwright turns 39 in August, so he can only go on for so long.
Another way would be to say I saw a tweet and it made me think for a few minutes. The lovely and esteemed baseball writer Chelsea Ladd put something out that got people talking. Here it is:
Now, let me acquit Ms. Ladd by saying she added in a follow-up tweet that she never meant to say he belonged in Cooperstown. Like me, Ladd thinks he is a sure-fire Cardinals Hall of Famer. He will get a red jacket after he retires.
And that shouldn't be a cheap alternative to the Hall. Think about it. Gooden was inducted into the Mets Hall of Fame in 2010. Like Wainwright, he had a few seasons where he was lights out, but after 6-7 seasons in New York, Gooden lost his magic and simply tried to get outs for the rest of his career.
For my money, the Hall of Fame is the top of the mountain for athletes. It's a recognition unlike any other. But if you asked Wainwright if he'd hand over his two World Series rings for a spot in Cooperstown, I'd like to think the answer would be quick and painless. Wainwright found his own brand of legend in St. Louis, a longevity most pitchers don't get to experience.
Let's face it. It's becoming a certainty that Wainwright is going to finish his career in St. Louis. I doubt if he wanted to pitch next year to some degree and it wasn't a sure thing for it to continue in St. Louis, he would step down and call it. That's the class in Wainwright, which along with his charity work in town, speaks to the first-class human that the pitcher is and has been for a decade and a half.
Wainwright is a Hall of Fame person, and a very good pitcher. He'll retire with honors and accolades, becoming a fine coach and St. Louis area legend.
Look at that. 2020 has given us many poor and distasteful things, but it's giving me a glimpse into the future for some wild reason. I am taking advantage of the very temporary superpower to talk about a guy who will start and finish his career in one town, pitching for one team.
For Adam Wainwright and the Cardinals, the future is still looking bright. Sounds Hall of Fame enough to me.
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