Adam Wainwright represents a lot for St. Louis Cardinals fans. He’s the final player standing from the club’s latest but not-so-recent recent World Series victory, a pitcher who was a mainstay of a consistently good to great staff for almost two decades, and a cornerstone in the clubhouse both on and off the mound.
After recording his 200th win — becoming only the third Cardinal ever to reach that mark after Bob Gibson and Jesse Haines — manager Oliver Marmon announced Uncle Charlie is skipping his next start in San Diego, and if he pitches again, it’ll be at Busch during the final series of the season.
I’m not here to tell you how underrated Wainwright was, or that he’s a sure-fire Hall of Famer, but he was a winner. Only twice in his 18 years with the team did the Cardinals finish below .500 — his first full-time season with the club in 2007, and this, his final year.
Baseball fans’ introduction to Wainwright’s trapdoor curveball was in the 2006 NLCS when he K’d Carlos Beltran to close out the Mets and advance to the World Series, and that pitch has gotten him out of more jams than he’d care to admit.
If not for Wainwright’s enthusiasm to swing the lumber — and now-defunct National League rules — his career might’ve gone differently as he popped his Achilles running out of the batter’s box in what should’ve been one of his prime seasons, and was never quite as dominant after returning.
Sure, there were a couple of vintage years, and Red Bird fans were never worried about him getting the call in the postseason, but to really appreciate Wainwright, you have to be a Cardinals fan, or an MLB pitcher. Post-Achilles Wain-O had to grind out a lot more starts, and often it felt like he was getting guys out more moxy, guile, and one of the best pitch framers to ever do it behind the plate.
I’m not going to go too hard on the Yadier Molina–Wainwright battery mate record, because too much sentiment gives me heartburn. At the same time, they probably still share a mental link and can talk via ESP like Professor X and Jean Grey, and I would co-sign them as manager and pitching coach.
To that point, Wainwright’s best trait was how he conducted himself as a man. From his Big League Impact foundation to winning the Roberto Clemente Award, you never felt bad for being a fan. That’s especially true for someone like myself who trudges through the muck of pro players’ personal lives, and feels obligated to do a thorough background check before writing a positive word about any athlete.
During the 2020 season when Black Lives Matter marches were dominating the news, Wainwright stood up for, and next to, his Black teammates in a city and state that’s not exactly progressive. Even though he’s a man of faith — and that’s been used as a crutch to embrace bigotry — the Georgia native never bought into that logic.
His thoughts at the moment are worth revisiting.
As the franchise moves into a new era, one without glorified pitching coaches Wain-O and Molina, it’s fair to ask who will lead the staff, and clubhouse, going forward. Wainwright took the ace baton from Chris Carpenter, but as currently constructed, he has no one to hand it off to.
However, that’s a problem for team president John Mozeliak, or whoever replaces him, to figure out, because Cardinals fans are too busy with the grieving process. I know Adam Wainwright isn’t dead, but 18 years is almost half of my life, and it’ll be weird not seeing No. 50, or that beautiful curve, next season.
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