It was a day of coming and going for the Cardinals. In the first major personnel announcements of the offseason, General Manager John Mozeliak announced that the organization was furthering its leadership on the bench with Mike Matheny, while also making official the retirement of Chris Carpenter.
In the current, the decision to continue on further with manager Matheny was affirmed over the long-term—not that there was ever any question regarding it. In his second year, the Cardinals finished with a National League-best 96 wins, going to win its first National League Championship under his guide, before reaching Game 6 of the World Series. For these efforts, he finished fourth the voting for NL Manager of the Year and saw it come to a head today with a three-year contract extension that will keep him in St. Louis through the 2017 season. Before the 2013 season, his third year option that covers the 2014 season was previously picked up.
Matheny has played a pivotal role in keeping the organization afloat after future Hall of Fame manager Tony LaRussa retired two years ago. In a time where the team could have slipped into a minor rebuilding phase, under his watch it has instead returned it to the NLCS two consecutive years and won its first NL Central in four years. In his first two seasons on the bench, Matheny has a record of 185-139, which is the third best two-season start to managerial career in Cardinal history.
Perhaps what has been most impressive has been the handling of the young guard of Cardinal prospects that Matheny has embraced. They have become an important foundation of the team, both now and in years to come. Armed with a ready to win, yet continually developing roster, the move to secure Matheny over the long-term is yet another strong early investment in continued Cardinal success.
Yet, while the club was securing its future, it also announced the newest part of its past. The biggest announcement of the afternoon was Mozeliak confirming what was long assumed to be coming: the retirement of Carpenter. Injuries curtailed the last two seasons for the 38-year-old pitcher, and he mustered only three starts since 2011. After mounting a final comeback attempt in mid-June, only to see it derailed in Memphis after the same nerve issues that ended his 2012 in Spring Training returned. Ultimately, it became clear there was nothing left to pursue in regards to continued attempts to return, and as his contract also expired with the club at the end of the season as well, it became clear that it was time to move on.
Injuries often kept Carpenter from being the regularly dominant presence at the front of the Cardinal rotation, but when he was there, he was among the best hurlers to ever wear the Birds on Bat. After beginning his career with the Toronto Blue Jays, Carpenter signed with the Cardinals in December 2002, but missed his first season in St. Louis with an elbow injury.
But from the time he made his Cardinal debut in 2004, on through 2006, he was as good a pitcher as the National League had. Over that time span, he posted a record of 51-18, including winning the first Cardinal Cy Young in 2005 since Bob Gibson hoisted the award 35 years before. In 2006, he anchored a Cardinal staff that salvaged a failing season to win the team’s first World Series since 1982.
While he missed all but five games in 2007 and 2008 due to a second elbow surgery, he played an important role as mentor to the young Adam Wainwright, becoming a critical part of launching a career that has seen him join Carp among the elite Cardinal hurlers all-time. He returned to the top of his game in 2009, joining Wainwright in the top three of the NL Cy Young vote, a third such finish for Carp.
His final great hurrah was in the 2011 postseason, when he authored one of the great postseason games in history, winning a 1-0 dual with Roy Halladay. Overall, he posted a 4-0 record that October, including two World Series wins over the Rangers, including the decisive game seven victory.
Overall, he finished with a career record of 144-95, and a 10-4 postseason record, the seventh most wins in playoff history. With the Cardinals, his career record finishes at 95-44 with a 3.04 ERA and finished in the top ten in strikeouts, winning percentage, WHIP and postseason wins. He fought through a litany of injuries during his career: a torn shoulder labrum, torn ulnar-collateral ligament, and finally thoracic outlet syndrome, that led to the nerve and circulatory problems that ultimately brought his career to a close.
Due to time lost, Carpenter will not reach Cooperstown, but will loom large in the lore of his era. He is likely to be a quick inductee into the forthcoming Cardinals Hall of Fame when the Ballpark Village-based Cardinal museum is completed. Nobody will ever wearing his number 29 again most likely, despite the fact it is not eligible to be “officially” retired under current team rules. As for his future in the game, there has been continued dialogue between him and Mozeliak on finding a place for him with the club, most likely in a coaching capacity. Because, for one of the game’s great warriors, a suit-and-tie front office gig will not do. Rather, keeping him close to the dirt and the players that continue the legacy that he so intensely embraced is the only way.
As it has always been, its only goodbye for now for Carp.
Matt Whitener is a staff writer for i70 Baseball. He can also be found at The Sports Fan Journal and Cheap.Seats.Please, as well as on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan and WhitenerCSP@gmail.com