When I sat down to type this article, I did the usual preparation activities: I pulled up Baseball Reference and FanGraphs and typed in the player I was about to start writing about. Here at StanGraphs, we can’t risk sounding like we don’t know what we’re talking about, after all. As I was typing in this player’s name, I had one of those universal typing moments when my fingers recognized a familiar pattern and took over. In this case, my Baseball Reference search ended up being for a player named “Christ Carpenter.” There were no matches, but perhaps there is meaning to be derived from this seemingly random slip-up.
No, I’m not suggesting Chris Carpenter is the son of God sent to cleanse the world of sin — you’d be hard-pressed to find a more out there Cardinal blog, but even we’re not that weird. However, the case could certainly be made at this point that Chris
t Carpenter has truly earned his place alongside the holiest of names in Cardinal franchise history. Let me say his name once again just to make sure the Baseball Reference linker picks it up and sends us its customary millions of views (StanGraphs is rich and famous): Chris Carpenter is to be forever cherished forever by every Cardinal fan that isn’t a black-hearted son of a bitch who murders kittens and promotes worldwide illiteracy.
Why the eulogy? Well, you probably already know the answer to that one, as the news is a few days old now. We aren’t in the news breaking business, okay? So you’ve probably already heard that Carpenter won’t be pitching in the 2013 season, and the speculation is that he won’t be coming back this time. I’m one to agree with that speculation, and although crazy things do happen, and the subject in question has already proven time and time again that he can will himself back to health — if only for brief periods of time — like no one else, you just get a sense of finality this time. Carpenter has been through so many radical surgeries and rehab programs at this point that his upper body is more machine than man, and though he may be meaner than George Washington after you had the poor sense to insult his ugly fake teeth (why would you do that?), enough is enough. There’s no shame in calling it a career at this point, and barring another miracle recovery, that’s exactly what’s going to happen here.
So now it’s time to start the reflections. Not long ago, I had to write a similar post, a career retrospective of sorts, and that one was far more serious. After all, we’re not talking about life and death here, and we’re not talking about the franchise’s most storied and beloved icon — the namesake of StanGraphs, even. We’re simply talking about a player who signed with the Cardinals in 2002 and promptly spent the next decade plus throwing baseballs with so much skill and ferocity that everyone (fans, teammates, opposing hitters, umpires) watching was both terrified and awed at the same time. That said, there are certain similarities between these two cases, and both pack a significant punch when it comes to eliciting emotion from us.
As I wrote when I artfully tackled the topic of Stan the Man’s passing, I’m loathe to repeat all the statistics and cliches you’ve already read about Carpenter by now. I don’t want to go into his incredible record with the Cardinals, I don’t want to say he’s the modern day Bob Gibson, and I don’t want to go on and on about how much he means to the team — except that he does mean a lot to the team. The loss of Carpenter truly does go beyond pitching, and speaking of pitching, it’s a pretty big loss there as well, especially for a rotation that already has to wonder about how much it’s going to get from another reliable starter in Jaime Garcia.
How good was Carpenter in his time with the Cardinals? Well, good enough to be worth more than 30 WAR per FanGraphs, and while he’s technically been with the team for the last decade, that total WAR was mostly the product of just six full seasons on the mound. When healthy, the man was a monster, but unfortunately he was not able to satisfy the terms of that caveat very frequently. Honestly, we should have known that the three-year stretch from 2009-2011 would be his swan song. Assuming anything less was beyond starry-eyed, as the guy has really never strung long periods of health together in his entire career, even as a much younger pitcher. He once topped 150 innings four years in a row at the beginning of his career with Blue Jays, but since then, three has been his limit, and now it’s time for the customary two full seasons of nagging injuries. At this stage in the game (I’m being metaphorical here), it just isn’t realistic to expect Carpenter to continue coming back from these extended absences.
As tragic as the injuries were, and as much as they kept a once dominant pitcher from accomplishing, we still have a lot to celebrate from the Chris Carpenter era in St. Louis. He was a driving force behind two World Series runs, pitched in three All-Star games, and finished first, second, and third in the Cy Young voting in three respective seasons. We had the pleasure of getting to know what is easily one of the meanest players to ever put on a uniform, someone who would probably not even think twice about plunking Ty Cobb if the great Georgia Peach gave him a look that might have even hinted at funny business. Sure, we didn’t always know what he was getting all red-faced and angry about, but he was on our side, damn it, and he made that known with a fire that few before or after him ever could. If you’re on the other side of Chris Carpenter, I won’t even hold it against you for hating him; I get it.
Don’t put StanGraphs in that camp, however. We adore Chris Carpenter, both the man the pitcher, and even if it is time to say goodbye to his playing career, we hope it doesn’t mean that he and the organization have to part ways. He’d be a natural fit to replace Derek Lilliquist as the team’s pitching coach someday, or perhaps right away if I had it my way, and even if that never happens, surely there is some kind of role he could fill in the meantime. Carp is no Hall of Famer, and it’s probably stretching it even to call him a Cardinal legend, but those of us who got to watch him pitch for our favorite team will always treasure all those October games with a lanky right-handed hockey lover from the north on the mound, and we’ll always remember how comforting his presence was. Even now, I can see his menacing stare, the abundance of beard stubble, and the sweat-soaked uniform, and that image will be one that I call upon often in the distant future whenever I’m feeling the need to submerse myself in baseball nostalgia.