Every baseball player wants to go out on his own terms, to end the career he has pursued since boyhood at a time of his own choosing in a manner he would prefer, but really, very few manage to do so. Careers end abruptly every day.
A player who hopes to be drafted by a Major League team and is not, gets the word in a harsh manner, by his name being left off a list. A one-year Class A player doesn’t have his contract renewed. No room in the organization for you son. It happens to AA players, to AAA players, who have to believe they are so close to the Show and then get cut.
Same for those who have a cup of coffee in the majors and even those who become stars. One day nobody wants their signature on a new deal and they have no team to join in spring training. What happened to Chris Carpenter is just as bad, if not worse. One minute he was the ace of the St. Louis Cardinals’ pitching staff and then he gets hurt and instead of getting well finds out that he probably can’t ever throw hard enough again to do more than practice with his son’s Little League team.
In early February it was announced that Carpenter would not be able to pitch for St. Louis during the 2013 season. This is on the heels of his being unable to pitch for St. Louis during the 2012 season except for a few cameo appearances. That makes for two straight years basically out of the mix. Soon after the word seeped out that the numbness and pain in Carpenter’s shoulder likely means he will never pitch again. The diagnosis of nerve damage has essentially ended his career.
That’s tough news to take and it is almost certain that Carpenter refused to believe it at first. Career-ending injuries are often sudden, but this one seems to have snuck up on the hurler. After missing almost the entire 2012 season Carpenter came back to pitch late in the season. That certainly hinted that he had recovered and would be ready to go in 2013. Which is what made his departure so surprising.
Carpenter, a 15-year major leaguer, has a lifetime record of 144-94 with a 3.76 earned run average and was a three-time All-Star. It was so long ago that Carpenter pitched for the Toronto Bluejays it’s amazing to recall that he spent six years with that club. He was much better in just his Cardinals years and twice was on a World Series champion with St. Louis. In 2005, Carpenter went 21-5. In 2009, he finished 17-4. With him in the rotation at full strength, the Cardinals would have been much more formidable this season than without him.
It is a disappointing end to a very solid career, for sure, and it would be neat if the hopeless situation found a solution. This is probably not practical, or even the answer, but maybe Carpenter can take knuckleball lessons from R.A. Dickey. But although Carpenter had no intention of retiring otherwise, he is 37, so barring miracles this really is the end of the line.