(BaseballStL) – Baseball players live two lifetimes. In the first, they all share a common centerpiece. They compete in a sport that less than 20,000 people in history have played professionally, and they are in the topmost tier of athletic prowess and notoriety.
In the second, the script is wholly unwritten. It is up to each man to find his path after the fundamental driving force of the first lifetime is removed.
Chris Carpenter will now face that challenge, telling Cardinal management he plans to retire from the game. The test of the second life often proves the toughest for athletes, but Carpenter is more than equipped to deal with it.
What is Chris Carpenter's legacy with the Cardinals? Share your thoughts.
In a career that was as much agony as it was awe-inspiring, the Cardinal pitcher thrilled fans and baffled hitters while combating one injury after another.
Bone spurs, tendonitis, a torn labrum, Tommy John Surgery- he had all the hallmark injuries on a long-term pitcher’s list. He even managed to show us some new ones in ulnar nerve transposition and thoracic outlet syndrome. But he just kept coming back.
“When you think back to everything the organization has been through in regard to his ups and downs, he will still go down as one of the greatest we ever had,” said General Manger John Mozeliak.
His competitive drive was such that for a time, he seemed able to will himself to health- or at least mask the deficiencies caused by a lack thereof.
In 2012, he underwent a procedure that sounded so gruesome many wondered if he would ever be able to brush his teeth again, much less return to the game. Despite rib removal and muscle releases, he was projected to have a normal offseason between 2012 and 2013.
He was not projected to be standing on the mound in the first round of the 2012 playoffs, winning Game 3 of the NLDS against the Washington Nationals.
There was something about Chris Carpenter that propelled him-and his career- further than anyone imagined possible.
Perhaps it’s a maniacal competitive drive. Maybe it’s an unrivaled passion for the game. It could be a fear of what comes next. Likely it is some combination of the three.
Finally, age and injury proved too much for the former Cy Young winner. After numbness returned multiple times in 2013, Carpenter finally shut it down. His will was not enough. His body had spoken.
Now, as the next life begins, the full impact of the previous existence can be felt. Manager Mike Matheny, who signed a three-year extension with the club Wednesday, was not only with Carpenter in St. Louis, but early in his career in Toronto as well. He spoke with Carpenter after his announcement.
“My words to him were, ‘everybody understands all the accolades and the accomplishments, those things are obvious- the way you competed. Those are things to be proud of,” Matheny said. “But what he should be most proud of is how many people he affected. The way he went about playing this game and how he demanded so much from himself and other people. He made many people better and that’s just a chain that keeps going.”
That impact was seen during the playoff run, with Carpenter gathering teammates during pregame infield, and stories of him counseling young pitchers before the biggest starts of their careers.
“His leadership and leading by example created what we see now in the Adam Wainwrights of the world,” said Mozeliak. He added he hoped the trend would continue with the staff’s youngest arms.
As their legacy is contemplated, the path forward can be a rocky one for former stars. Some fail to ever understand life outside the game. Some flourish when left to their own aspirations.
After the announcement, Mozeliak again expressed hope Carpenter would return to the Cardinals in some fashion.
“I think he has a lot to offer [the game] I’m hoping he will embrace some role with the cardinals in the future,” he said. “I would really enjoy working with him and I think he would add so much to this organization.”
Chris Carpenter’s second lifetime is now set to begin. Whether it’s spent around the game of baseball- be it in the dugout, front office or announcer’s booth- or not, a new group of people will soon find themselves working a whole lot harder to keep up.