Wainwright hints at final year, but 'I'm still executing'

Entering age-40 season: 'I’m still having a really, really good time pitching'

March 29th, 2022

JUPITER, Fla. -- With Yadier Molina already in his 19th and final Spring Training and the newly signed Albert Pujols admitting this will be his “last run,” Cardinals staff ace Adam Wainwright also got into the act and hinted at retirement on Monday.

Wainwright, who is entering his 18th season and is the heavy favorite to be the Cardinals’ Opening Day starter for a sixth time, admitted he’s started to contemplate how his career will someday end. While the 40-year-old Wainwright stopped short of calling this his last season, he did say that it is a possibility because of the tug to spend more time with his family.

“Everywhere I go, I get retired, and I haven’t said one thing about it. I would be willing to tell you that I think it’s probably my last year, but I’m not going on record to say it is my last year,” Wainwright said. “I just don’t want to put [retirement] out there until I know, and I don’t know that. I do know that I want to get our kids a puppy, and I’m ready to be with them a lot more. But I’m still having a really, really good time pitching. I’m still executing, and I feel I can do it at a high level, so I’m not crossing that bridge.”

The signing of the 42-year-old Pujols to a one-year contract on Monday means that Wainwright is no longer the oldest player on the squad. When Molina turns 40 in July, the Cardinals will have three 40-something players for the first time since 1996, when Ozzie Smith, Dennis Eckersley and Rick Honeycutt were on the roster. Pujols, Wainwright and Molina are all older than new Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol, MLB’s youngest skipper at 35 years old.

Wainwright said he never imagined that he and Pujols -- teammates from 2005-11 -- would both play long enough to ever see a St. Louis reunion materialize. But here they are, teammates again who enjoyed a “big bear hug” on Monday when Pujols woke Wainwright from his pregame nap.

“He signed a long contract [with the Angels in 2011], and you think that would carry him to the end of [his career],” Wainwright said. “I remember where I was -- I was on the golf course, on hole No. 4 at Frederica Golf Club at home [in Georgia] -- when I found out that he had signed with the Angels, and that was a big, life-altering moment. I’m just glad he’s back.”

Cardinals president of baseball operations John Mozeliak called Pujols, Molina and Wainwright “three legends making their final lap around baseball.” Wainwright, a 17-game winner last season, was somewhat surprised to hear that Mozeliak mentioned him in the group of potential retirees. As a battery, Wainwright and Molina have started 304 times together for the fourth most in Major League history. They need 21 more starts together this season to break the baseball record set by former Tigers Mickey Lolich and Bill Freehan.

Wainwright did say there is one scenario where he might retire his famed 12-to-6 curveball and walk away from the pitching mound for good.

“Who knows with these things? I go out and win 24 or 25 games and we win a World Series, and Yadi and I break the record [for most starts among a pitcher-catcher battery], I’m mic-dropping [and retiring],” Wainwright said with a laugh. “I’m calling that shot right now. Mic drop, no interview, and just leave.”