Everyone was smiling on Thursday after Adam Wainwright signed his contract extension. (Cardinals photo)
By Rob Rains
One of the realities of baseball, or any sport, is that almost every time there is a winner, there also has to be a loser.
What happened on Thursday was one of the exceptions.
The contract extension that will keep Adam Wainwright in a Cardinal uniform through the 2018 season has no losers. Everybody wins in this situation.
The person who wins the most, of course, is Wainwright. He wanted to be able to play his entire major-league career as a Cardinal and it now appears that will happen. At the end of the 2018 season, Wainwright will have pitched for the Cardinals for 13 years. Only four pitchers in franchise history have had longer careers – Jesse Haines, Bob Gibson, Bob Forsch and Bill Sherdel.
The only pitcher in history who spent his entire major-league career with the Cardinals, and pitched more than 13 years was Gibson.
Wainwright understands that. A deeply religious man, he prayed that this would be the outcome of these current negotiations. He could have played out this year and become a free agent but he did not want to do that.
The agreement shows that there are still some players in the game, albeit not enough, who value what they have more than chasing the almighty dollar. Wainwright likely left multiple millions of dollars on the table by getting this deal done now, but he had no problem with that. This is a fair deal to him, because of what he values more than just money.
It is a good deal for the Cardinals as well. The compromise that saw them increase the length of their offer from four to five years was offset by Wainwright lowering his salary demands.
Like Wainwright, the Cardinals realized that there are some aspects of the game that do not come with a dollar amount attached. Leadership is one. Integrity is another. Personal pride is a third. Wainwright has all of that, in abundance.
For the next six years, including this season, there will be no doubt who is the ace of this pitching staff, on and off the field. In addition to Wainwright and the Cardinals, the third winner in this contract are all of the young pitchers in the St. Louis system.
There is no better role model to guide and mentor Shelby Miller, Joe Kelly, Trevor Rosenthal, Michael Wacha, Carlos Martinez and the rest of the talented young pitchers in the organization than Wainwright. He will make them better pitchers and at the same time, if they follow his lead, he will make them better people.
Wainwright has talked often about how much he has benefited from the advice and counsel of Chris Carpenter. That mantle of leadership is passing now to Wainwright, and there will be no drop off. He may not lead with the “bad cop” approach that Carpenter had, but he will not be shy in pointing out when he believes somebody has stepped out of line.
Similarly, Wainwright’s presence in the clubhouse will benefit every player on the Cardinals’ roster, not just pitchers. On a team loaded with young players who are still figuring out life, along with how to hit a curve ball, Wainwright will be there to offer suggestions and answer questions and lead by example as well as using his own knowledge to try to keep those players from making mistakes he has seen other players make over the years.
He will set an example for other players to emulate, and that includes how to act with the media. It is not an area many fans think about, but is an important aspect of the game today. There is a caustic relationship between many players in the game and the men and women who are there every day to cover them, but that does not exist with Wainwright.
On good days and bad, Wainwright always is in front of his locker after a game, ready to talk about what happened. He understands that if he is going to talk after a good game, part of being a professional means he has to be there to talk on the bad days as well. It is a lesson some of Wainwright’s former teammates never understood.
Wainwright doesn’t just talk. He provides thoughtful, sincere answers and analysis. It is a shame he is a starting pitcher, which means the media generally only gets his insight into the game once every five days instead of on a daily basis.
Cardinal fans also benefit from this new deal. They know Wainwright is going to be in St. Louis for the rest of his playing days, and will no doubt be a frequent guest at the ballpark after he retires. Whether he one day earns election to the Hall of Fame and can get his red sports coat to wear alongside the other Hall of Famers remains to be seen, but fans won’t have to worry about having their loyalties divided between their team and one of their favorite players were he to show up in a different uniform some day.
Only a limited number of players with Wainwright’s ability get the chance to spend their entire careers in one city. Don’t under-estimate the importance of that in Wainwright’s decision to forego free agency.
That is why the final winner in this deal is the game of baseball itself. It’s refreshing to realize there are some players who, quite simply, get it. They understand there is more to being happy and successful than being the highest paid player in the game, or at their position. If Wainwright had become a free agent, many teams would have made him richer than the Cardinals did on Thursday, but that didn’t matter to him.
Seeing the emotion that came out as he talked at Thursday’s news conference, it was obvious what this deal means to Wainwright. It was easy to see what is important to him – his faith, his family, his teammates, his pride in who he is and what he does.
Not everybody gets the chance to play major-league baseball, or be paid millions of dollars at their job. Everybody, however, can realize and appreciate what they do have – and we should say thank you to Wainwright for reminding us of that.