Spring 2021 Magazine

Cardinals pitcher Jack Flaherty talks faith and grief on 'Table Forty' podcast

St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Jack Flaherty is one of Major League Baseball’s rising stars. Much of that can be credited to his standing as one of the best pitchers in the league, but it’s also due to his engaging personality.

On Wednesday, Flaherty joined the “Table Forty” podcast, hosted by former Cardinals star Matt Holliday and his wife, Leslee. He opened up about his growing platform, his faith and the one-year anniversary of the death of his friend and fellow major league pitcher, Tyler Skaggs.

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Flaherty grew up Catholic in Southern California and attended Catholic school from kindergarten until eighth grade. Faith has always been a part of his life, and he credited his mother for instilling that, as well as his competitive drive, in him.

But in mid-summer in 2019, he realized his relationship with God was not what it should be.

“You know, I sat myself down one day last year and kind of looked at my routine, looked at everything, and I was like, ‘I haven’t read even one Bible verse in the last four or five months,’” he said on the podcast. “‘I haven’t been living with the same morals and the same values that I’ve lived with my entire life.’”

Skaggs died about two weeks later, on July 1, 2019.

A year later, Flaherty said he’s still struggling with grief over the loss of his friend.

“Nobody really knows how to deal with somebody passing away, especially sudden when you’re not expecting it and not ready for it,” he said. “It’s a lot of confusion, even still now. It’s a lot of confusion.”

Flaherty and Skaggs both grew up in Southern California, and with Skaggs being a few years older, he acted as a mentor to Flaherty. Once both reached the major leagues, they worked out and hung out in the offseason together for three years and would connect any time their teams played.

Skaggs and his Los Angeles Angels visited St. Louis for an inter-league series against the Cardinals a week before his death, and Flaherty and Skaggs met for dinner one night after a game.

“We just talked,” Flaherty said. “He was one of those guys who was just … his personality and his smile and his energy was infectious. One of the things that’s hard is losing someone and trying to understand. When I eventually was like, ‘I’m not going to understand,’ and tried to move on, but also trying to be there for the people who were closest to him is where you see it. Like, I know this hurts me, but there’s somebody else out there who’s really, really impacted by it.

“All you can do is be there for each other. It’s hard to comprehend. It’s hard to understand.”

Flaherty pointed back to that moment just weeks before tragedy struck, when he re-calibrated himself and his faith. He said he didn’t realize how much of an impact his faith would have on him until he got into professional baseball and was on his own.

That faith guided him and continues to guide him through the grief.

“You just kind of get away and you get off track,” Flaherty said. “It’s about finding your way back and finding your way back to your faith and the way that you live, and the decisions you make, and the way that you act, the way that you treat people. Just every little thing.”

Flaherty credited teammate Adam Wainwright with being a guiding influence on him as a man and as a Christian. Flaherty said Wainwright’s mentorship has helped him strengthen his relationship with God.

“That relationship with the Lord is the biggest part, and continuing to develop that relationship and just understanding different things about it and that the Lord is with you every step of the way,” he said. “Even if you may come off that path and you find your way back to the Lord, He’s going to be there with you. That relationship is something that continues to build and continues to grow and continues to change.”

Flaherty, who is of mixed race, has also been outspoken on recent social justice issues and about using his platform as a professional athlete to effect change. Flaherty said athletes are allowed to feel what they want about what’s going on around them.

“Use your platform for whatever matters to you,” he said. “You don’t have to. You don’t have to be out there at the front of the line talking about things, trying to change things. It can be behind the scenes, but whatever it is, be able to use your platform for whatever is important to you.”

Flaherty has leveraged his position as an MLB player in a number of ways.

“For me, it’s just whatever you can do to help, whatever that means, whether that’s encouraging people to vote, encouraging people to educate themselves or encouraging people to just make a change in their daily lives,” he said. “There are so many things that can go on, so many different ways to impact somebody, and using your voice and your platform for whatever that looks like.”

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