Chris Carpenter started his first game in the Major Leagues over 20 years ago for the Toronto Blue Jays. May 12, 1997 was the beginning of a tumultuous six year period in the American League doldrums for the vicious righthander, nearly spelling the end of his career. Then, the St. Louis Cardinals and Dave Duncan intervened, and the rest is crimson-colored history.
When I heard Carpenter was on the Hall of Fame ballot for the first time, I was shocked. I couldn't believe it had been five years since Carpenter threw a baseball, but it was sadly true. Oct. 2, 2012 was the last time he threw a pitch for the Cardinals. The nerve injury in his right shoulder simply wouldn't allow him to continue, and he made that sad cowboy phone call to then General Manager John Mozeliak to officially hang it up.
I'll be honest and say that watching Carpenter compete is my favorite baseball memory in the 28 years of my addiction to Cardinals baseball. There were few like the man, especially at the height of his game. He won 21 games, completed seven of them and won the Cy Young in 2005, but he was always angry. The man was an animal on the mound. He'd bark, scream and holler at opposing players and his own if they didn't follow the Carp code of ethics, which sometimes included merely reaching base or having the wrong glove on (sorry Brendan Ryan).
Carpenter held a grudge against every man who dared to step on the field and compete against him. Remember when Nyjer Morgan tried to trash talk him during the 2011 season? Carpenter waved him off like like a giant glaring down at a dwarf. Morgan didn't like Carpenter blowing him away with pure smoke.
However, as much as I love the guy, he isn't a Hall of Famer. It's not even close. The fact that he pitched for 15 seasons doesn't tell the entire story. Carpenter only started 30 games or more in a season five times in his career. The 144 wins isn't nearly enough. The 3.76 ERA doesn't look too flashy. The two World Series titles and Cy Young help, but not enough to give him a respectable vote.
If Carpenter had gotten three-to-five more healthy seasons, closer to 250 wins, an earned run average closer to 3.00 than 4.00, then the chances certainly go up. In the end, Carpenter will sit comfortably in the Cardinals Hall of Fame, a place where he belongs.
The tale of Carpenter's career is the classic rise, fall, and rise variety. A first round draft pick that landed with a thud in Toronto, only to flourish mightily in St. Louis. If his body had been more kind to his playing career, the fate would surely be different.
Alas, the greatest hits remain for Cardinals fans and Carpenter. The historic run in September and October of 2011 to seal the World Series. The duel with his late friend, Roy Halladay. The commanding 1-2 punch he formed with Adam Wainwright, passing the torch to the Georgia native. Watching Carpenter's old school motion of simply rocking back and firing is still missed today.
A favorites club isn't required for a pitcher to leave a dent in the game. An actor may not win an Academy Award, but still put together a fine career. Carpenter won the big prize once and helped two different Cardinals teams to championships. Who knows, if he hadn't torn an arm muscle in 2004, the Cardinals may have three World Series titles under his reign.
Chris Carpenter isn't a Hall of Famer, and that's OK.