Yesterday, Time claimed his latest victim.
Long-time Cardinal pitcher Chris Carpenter, survivor of multiple esoteric surgeries; least favorite Cardinal of any opposing team's fan; human who is 23% surgical-grade steel and titanium by dry weight; and founder, president, and best customer of the American Expletives Corporation, retired.
Don't Not Call It a Comeback
From when Chris Carpenter first arrived in December of 2002, he was constantly coming back from one injury or surgery or another. While he was Toronto's opening day starter in 2002, a serious shoulder injury and surgery to repair his labrum in September 2002 left Carpenter as such damaged goods that the Blue Jays only offered him a minor league deal for 2003. When Carpenter decline the offer, the Cardinals swooped in with an offer to play in 2003.
The deal was not a success, at least not for a Cardinals team hoping to add a potential star to their rotation in 2003, especially following the death of Darryl Kile in 2002. Carpenter did not return at mid-season, but stayed out for the whole 2003 season. 2003 was the year Jason Simontacchi, Brett Tomko, Garrett Stephenson, and Jeff Fassero conspired to start 81 games and be worth a collective -0.2 WAR.
It was a dark time.
In late July 2003, the doctors found that the tacks they'd surgically driven into Carpenter's labrum had pulled out. A further surgical repair was necessary.
Just let that sink in. Imagine somebody drove a bunch of surgical-grade carpet tacks into the soft tissue inside your shoulder. AND THEY PULLED OUT.
If that happened to me, I'd probably resign myself to writing with my left hand and start looking for a job that didn't involve the strenuous use of my injured shoulder. Carpenter thought it would be a great idea to try again. So he had the second surgery, did the rehab, and by early 2004, he was pitching again.
Over 11 seasons with the Cardinals, he essentially played two sets of three seasons, each culminating with a World Series win and another hideous injury.
He pitched most of the 2004 season, sitting out the last two weeks with a possibly portentous nerve problem in his pitching shoulder. And he was pretty good for a guy who'd recently had LOOSE TACKS INSIDE HIS SHOULDER, posting a 3.41 ERA and a 3.85 FIP, winning 15 games.
In 2005 and 2006, he looked indomitable. He was one of the best starters in the league, amassing 6 WAR in his career-leading season, [for which he won the Cy Young Award. -ed.] He put up 4.7 WAR in 2006, leading the rotation to the first Cardinals World Series victory since 1982.
After starting the Opening Day game for the 2007 season, Carpenter's body again declined the opportunity to participate in his plan to strike all the #%@)*#$%&(#@$ers out. Carpenter felt soreness in his elbow. Rehab efforts failed, and a month later, he was set for surgery to address bone spurs in his right elbow. In July 2007, that became full reconstructive surgery on his elbow. He was only able to do a basic rehab assignment in 2008 and start 3 games at the end of the season.
But at the start of 2009, Carpenter began his second set of really good Cardinal seasons. He turned in a 2.24 ERA and a 2.78 FIP, winning 17 games. In his second-best career season, he amassed 5.2 WAR and finished [second -ed.] in Cy Young voting. He followed that season up with two more great ones. In 2010, he won 16 games and finished with a 3.20 ERA and a 3.69 FIP, putting up a 3.3 WAR total. Early season bad outcomes masked an excellent season in 2011, in which Carpenter put up 4.5 WAR and a 3.06 FIP, though his 3.45 ERA and 11-9 record did not do it justice. Any lingering frustration with either his stats or his injuries must have temporarily disappeared as the Cardinals won their second World Series during Carpenter's career here.
But again, the post-World Series gleam would not last. After injuring his toe in a South American fishing expedition that everyone would have liked to observe quietly, Chris complained of more serious numbness and tingling in his pitching arm before spring training in 2012. He was found to have a bulging disk in his neck. Eventually, Carpenter was diagnosed with thoracic outlet syndrome and underwent a surgery that involved removing one of his ribs. Carpenter made valiant and repeated efforts to rehab during 2012 and 2013, but before the All-Star Break this season, it became clear that his career was essentially over.
We paid Chris Carpenter $26M through 2008 and $65M from 2009 to 2013, so the guy was definitely well-recompensed for his suffering, but I'm not sure I could have done it. He put up 28 WAR for the Cardinals in total, so I think he ended up being a good deal all-in-all.
Carpenter's legacy, first and foremost, will be his vital role in leading some of the best Cardinal teams of the Tony La Russa-Albert Pujols era, especially two World Championships. One of my favorite memories of Chris Carpenter will long be his duel with ex-teammate Roy Halladay in the winner-take-all finale of the 2011 NLDS.
His personal touch will be his underlying attitude. He played with extraordinary passion that he made no effort to hide, to the great pleasure of St. Louis fans and the great annoyance of others. You will find no parallel for his track record of shaking off multiple injuries and surgeries since Bob Gibson pitched on a broken toe.
Chris Carpenter earned the love of millions of St. Louis fans in a way that no other pitcher has done since Gibby. Everyone should take a moment to appreciate the legacy he is leaving us, and look forward to what he may contribute to the team off the field.