Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Fifty Games Over .500 And Furious

Not a fan of Dusty
Chris Carpenter's 2013 season ended today, and he looks awfully close to done at age 37. When you have a season-ending injury two months before the season starts, the forks are not far from your carcass. And while I've never been a direct fan (only in fantasy), and have even actively rooted against some of his Blue Jay and Cardinal teams from time to time, that doesn't mean he should pass without appreciation.

The thing I'm going to remember most about him isn't the post-season gritdowns that he served up to the Tigers, Phillies and Rangers (though every Phillies Fan remembers him with pure hate for ending the 102-win team, and the last great blast of Roy Halladay). Nor is it the 17-4 season that he whipped up in 2009, more or less dragging my sorry fantasy team into money for very low auction dollars due to his wretched injury history. It won't even be the injury history, which meant that his 15 year career was performed in something closer to 10 years.

Rather, it's this. Carpenter might have been the biggest red-ass in a sport that's filled to the walls with them, at least on the pitching mound. He'd have been at home in an earlier era of rough justice starters who threw at hitters in response for perceived or real slights, and expected to hit the dirt when they got into the box themselves. You always got the feeling, in watching him, that he was a little unhinged despite the pinpoint control, and that he was probably God's own misery after a loss. The stats tell me that he only had 8 career doubles and 2 career home runs as a hitter, but I must have seen all of them; by modern standards, he always seemed comfortable in the box with a bat in his hands, and damned near cocksure that he was going to do damage to the opposing pitcher. He was, in short, the kind of guy you wanted on your team, even if there was a very good chance that you were going to regret the signing at some point.

I'm also kind of glad that he spent his career in relative media backwaters, because he's the kind of guy that would have just been inescapable in a place like Boston or New York. Not the least for the fact that he wasn't very shy about microphones, or hiding his feelings for the opposition. In the wrong laundry, Carpenter would have been lionized for his Old School White Man Ways, and how they just don't make 'em like that no more, no sir, when the fact is that mean right handers who throw hard have been with us forever, and will be toeing the rubber until doomsday.

It also wouldn't surprise me at all if, in 12 to 18 months, you'll see him surface again for St. Louis, looking like nothing has changed. It's not as if he was ever a guy that lived on pure stuff or heat, or that he's going to be happy to sit on his cash in retirement. It's rare for star pitchers (or, indeed, stars of any kind) to come back to the game after their playing days are over, but Carpenter is that rare breed of grinder / star that translates, a la Bud Black or Dave Righetti, to a possible second act as a pitching coach. (And no, he's not making the Hall of Fame, not unless they want to dramatically lower the stat standards to modern ideas of how wins don't matter. Besides, the Hall voters always go for skills over grit.)

But if he does make it back, regardless of health or age or structural stability, and he's in the dugout when some bench-clearing happens?

Well, I'd expect him to be leading the charge, looking more than a little unhinged, and reminding all of the fans of his laundry about what I'm remembering right now.

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