Fall 2021 SS Magazine

Pitcher Adam Wainwright re-signs with St. Louis Cardinals, lauded as 'highly-respected team leader'

Adam Wainwright is returning to St. Louis. The veteran pitcher entering his 16th season (17th if you include the season he missed in 2011) signed a one-year contract reportedly worth $8 million to return to the team he’s spent his entire major league career with.

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The last couple of years that he was a free agent, he said there was never really a question of signing elsewhere. This year was different in that there were legitimate suitors.

“I had a little bit of patience and I was perfectly at ease in the process of waiting,” Wainwright told Fox Sports Midwest on Friday.

“We are pleased to announce that Adam is returning for the upcoming season, and we look forward to seeing him continue to add to his great Cardinals legacy,” Cardinals President of Baseball Operations John Mozeliak said. “While he continues to pitch at a high level, Adam also remains a highly-respected team leader who has committed himself to being a wonderful ambassador for both the game and his community.”

Wainwright said he turned down offers that included more money in order to return to St. Louis, but he really tried to let the process play out and let his agent, Steve Hammond, handle the negotiations.

“I think he knew deep down that I really wanted to come back to St. Louis,” Wainwright said. “But we were actually — especially early in free agency, the first few days of free agency — there were a couple of teams that were really high on me, calling every day. Very good teams, too.”

Wainwright said he only planned to sign with a team who would contend for a World Series, and St. Louis was a part of that list as well.

“It showed me that I really want to win,” he said. “I didn’t want to come back just to play to play. I really want to have a chance to win.”

Wainwright is the Cardinals’ all-time leader in postseason starts with 28.

“I’m really glad it worked out the way it did because I’m coming home,” he said. “I’m glad to be a St. Louis Cardinal. I love being a St. Louis Cardinal. I think there’s some things that I really like about this chance, our chances of winning this year.”

Wainwright, who will turn 40 in August, will match Hall of Famer Bob Gibson for the second-most seasons as a pitcher in a Cardinals uniform. He ranks third all-time among Cardinals in wins (167), second in strikeouts (1,830) and sixth in innings pitched (2,169.1). He’s won two World Series championships, in 2006 and 2011, and is a three-time All-Star (2010, 2013, 2014). He ranks seventh among active pitchers in wins, 11th in strikeouts, and eighth in earned run average (3.38), despite missing significant time due to injury in 2011, 2015 and 2018.

He’s coming off a season where he went 5-3 with a 3.15 ERA and two complete games, including one on his 39th birthday that almost gave him his 200th career quality start. He had not registered a complete game since 2016.

He’s won two Gold Gloves, finished in the top three for the Cy Young Award four times, and is a three-time All-Star.

Wainwright, though, is just as known for his impact off the field. In December, he was named the 2020 recipient for the Roberto Clemente Award, recognizing a player’s commitment to their community and efforts to help others.

In 2020, Wainwright led more than 22,000 people through reading the Bible in a year. He called it “one of the most powerful things of my entire life, honestly.”

“I’m getting this feedback from guys saying, ‘This is really helping me. This is powerful stuff, man. I’m in my Bible more than I’ve ever been, so thanks. This is really helping me grow my faith,’” Wainwright told Sports Spectrum last month. “And I started getting this little tug. Every day it was like, ‘Adam, you’re supposed to do this on a bigger level.’ That’s what I really felt like I was hearing, and I kept arguing with this little voice in my head. I’m like, ‘Nah, nah. I’m not doing this on a bigger level. I don’t even know what that means.’”

That voice became unavoidable, Wainwright said.

“Finally, I went to our pastor at our home here in Georgia, and I said, ‘Hey, Pastor Dave, I feel like I’m supposed to lead this program. I don’t know if this is God telling me this, but I feel like it’s the Holy Spirit leading me to do this reading engagement program with the church congregation. What do you think?’ And he goes, ‘Well gosh, Adam. I think we would have some people who would be interested in doing that. Let us help you set it up.’”

He was also outspoken about relying on Christ to lead him to support his Black brothers and sisters during the racial unrest of 2020. He wore a Black Lives Matter T-shirt and said he listened to his Black teammates share their heart and wanted to support them.

“It’s very simple to me,” Wainwright said. “And I’ll tell you this, as a Christian man, my job first and foremost is to love my neighbor, and to love my teammates and to love my friends and my family the best way I know how.”

In 2013, Wainwright and his wife Jenny started a nonprofit called Big League Impact, which brings athletes and fans together to raise money for charities through contests they enjoy. “Whether it is Fantasy Football, March Madness, singing karaoke, or e-sports, BLI brings athletes, celebrities and fans together in a spirit of competitiveness and giving,” says the BLI website.

It has raised $3.1 million and supported 45 different charities.

Last season, through BLI, the Wainwrights donated $250,000 to More Than Baseball, a nonprofit 501(c)(3), for financial assistance to Cardinals minor league players. MTB is a program aimed at evaluating financial need and raising money to help minor leaguers make it through difficult financial situations.

When the COVID-19 pandemic paused baseball activities, minor leaguers were unable to be paid like major leaguers. They rely on games to be played to receive a check, so with no games, that meant no check. The Wainwrights were able to help offset what would’ve been a difficult summer for a number of Cardinals minor leaguers.

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