Chris Carpenter first pitched in the major leagues in 1997, the year before Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa hit 328 home runs. He was only 22, and went 3-7 with a 5.10 ERA for the Blue Jays. The next season, Carpenter found himself as a major leaguer, and from there we can divide his career, perhaps uniquely, into six different phases ...
Of course I'm just projecting that last line, since we don't know that Carpenter won't pitch in 2013. But considering that he's reportedly considering retirement, it seems likely.
Let's look at those six phases in a somewhat more prosaic way:
2002-2003: SLAP tear of labrum
2007-2008: Tommy John surgery
2012-2013: Thoracic Outlet Syndrome
Shoulder. Elbow. Something You Never Heard of Before. The triple play of pitcher injuries, and now it seems a minor Miracle that Carpenter somehow managed to win 144 games.
Of course, the truth is that it's a minor Miracle when any pitcher stays healthy enough to win 144 games. Earlier today, I linked to Tom Verducci's annual article about pitchers who might (or might not) get hurt. I thought this part was interesting:
Not long ago an aunt and uncle gave me a worn department store gift box filled with newspaper clips about my late father, Tony Verducci, a highly successful football and baseball coach at Seton Hall Prep in New Jersey. Buried in the pile of yellowed newsprint was a 1973 column by Lloyd S. Glicken of the Newark Star-Ledger that bore news for me. Glicken wrote that my father, on the advice of the late Mets manager Gil Hodges, limited his pitchers to a maximum of 90 pitches, and in fact the previous season had removed a pitcher with a no-hitter after four innings because of the pitch count.
"Gil, who married my cousin, told me it was a good idea for young pitchers," my father said in the column. "It saves their arms. They do it in the minors to keep a young pitcher from throwing too much."
I was shocked. I never knew this: my father was implementing strict pitch counts with his pitchers 40 years ago. That season, his fifth, he won his 100th game, improving his record to 100-29.
Hodges had died the previous year, 1972, at age 47. Not only a great first baseman for the Brooklyn Dodgers and the manager of the 1969 New York Mets, Hodges also was an innovator in developing young pitchers. With his pitching coach, Rube Walker, Hodges helped popularize the five-man rotation. He joined a Mets organization in 1968 loaded with young arms and set the foundation for nearly all of them to enjoy long, healthy careers; Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman, Nolan Ryan, Dick Selma, Jim McAndrew, Jim Bibby, Gary Gentry, Rich Folkers, Jon Matlack, Tug McGraw and Steve Renko all were between 18 and 24 years old when Hodges arrived. Their longevity is a testament to how they were developed in the Mets system.
We can all come up with our definitions of "long, healthy career" ... but would you like to guess how many of those dozen pitchers with "long, healthy careers" won 144 games?
Seaver and Ryan are Hall of Famers, and Koosman won 222 games. None of the other guys won more than 134 games. Dick Selma went 42-54. Jim McAndrew went 37-53. Gary Gentry went 46-49. Rich Folkers went 19-23.
Chris Carpenter was born with an incredible amount of pitching talent. It's like that line in Bull Durham, about God reaching down and putting a lightning bolt in his arm when he was born. But God reaches down and puts lot of lightning bolts in a lot of arms. It takes a lot more than a lightning bolt to win 144 games.
It used to bother me when my favorite TV shows got canceled. Why didn't more people love Arrested Development? Eventually I realized how lucky I was, that Fox kept running such a low-rated show for as long as they did.
I don't mean to suggest that Chris Carpenter has been lucky. I don't know him well enough. But the great majority of pitchers born with his talents, both physical and mental, don't finish their careers with his professional accomplishments.
If this is the end for Chris Carpenter, we'll miss him. But we were lucky to have him for as long as we did.