Chris Carpenter (carpech01)

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Christopher John Carpenter

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Biographical Information[edit]

"He's just the entire package... He's got really tough stuff. He has a lot of pitches [and] can show a hitter one thing, mix it two or three times and show him something different, and he's competitive as all get-out. He's the complete package." - Tony La Russa


The picture of persistence Chris Carpenter endured numerous setbacks only to keep on trucking, racking up plenty of hardware and accolades in a fifteen-season big league career. Originally a member of the Toronto Blue Jays, Chris truly blossomed upon joining the St. Louis Cardinals, making three All-Star Game appearances, winning two World Series rings and being named the 2005 National League Cy Young Award winner. He also may go down as the only three-time Comeback Player of the Year award winner in the history of sport.

Originally committed to attending Creighton University, Chris first made history by becoming the first New Hampshire-born schoolboy to be drafted in the first round of an amateur draft, when the Toronto Blue Jays selected him 15th overall in 1993, wooing him with a $580,000 bonus. As he worked his way up the ladder, he became a highly touted prospect, surging to #28 on Baseball America's annual list of the 100 top prospects prior to the 1997 season. He was racking up healthy amounts of strikeouts while also still struggling with control issues. After a 1-3, 3.88 start with the Syracuse SkyChiefs of the Triple A International League in 1997, the Blue Jays decided they had been tantalized by his potential enough and made the call for the big right-hander to come aboard The Show train.

His debut was rough with a capital R. Facing the Minnesota Twins on May 12, 1997, he was bombed for 7 runs in 3 innings. After a hellacious whipping through three appearances (0-2, 12.71), it was back to Syracuse until July, when he righted the ship to finish at 3-7, 5.09, - not great, but a marked improvement. He started similarly roughly again in 1998, with 10 earned runs, 15 hits and 6 walks in his first 10 innings resulting in a demotion to the bullpen. He would not start again until his ERA was halved (9.00 to 4.48) in May, finding a groove by going 6-2 down the stretch to finish at 12-7, 4.37, tying Pat Hentgen for the staff lead in victories. Carpenter was addled by injuries in the final year of the 1990s, 1999, making only 24 starts before surgery to remove a bone spur from his elbow ended his season abruptly. He was perfectly adequate at 9-8, 4.38, but not exactly the big stud the Blue Jays were hoping to ride back to glory just yet.

The 2000 season may have been pure hell. Nothing went right as he went through another horrific start to a season: 13 runs, 18 hits (including 6 home runs), 10 walks for a 7.31 ERA through his first three starts. Entering a June 20th start against the Detroit Tigers, his ERA was at its high-water mark of 4.45 on the season with a 6-5 record. He promptly took the mound and was bombarded for nine runs, allowing three home runs, in two-plus innings. Two starts later, the Baltimore Orioles took their turn beating the Carpenter pinata, also slugging three home runs in a nine-run assault that lasted 4 2/3 innings. After a 7-run massacre at the hands of the New York Mets, he was moved to the bullpen briefly, staggering to the finish line on October 1st by allowing a bomb to Kenny Lofton of the Cleveland Indians. In good news, he'd established a new innings career high of 175 1/3 innings. In horrible news, everything else was ugly: a 10-12, 6.26 record, the American League-leading tallies of 123 earned runs and 130 runs, while allowing 204 hits, 30 of which were four-baggers.

And yet, after that adversity, Chris came out the gates HOT in 2001. In his first start, against the habitually moribund Tampa Bay Devil Rays, he surrendered only 4 hits in 8 innings, striking out 11 men in an 11-0 blowout. At the end of June, things were looking good (7-4, 3.67). Then the losing began, with his inability to stop the long balls rearing its ugly head to the tune of 12 in 56 2/3 innings. It was a real Jekyll and Hyde year: after a truly rough July and part of August left him 7-11, 4.59, he went back to good, with a six-hit, 12 strikeout shutout of the New York Yankees on September 4th the absolute pinnacle, finishing the year 11-11, 4.09, striking out a new personal best 157 hitters. Things were looking up, and the Jays felt they could count on Carpenter and a new hope, Roy Halladay, to carry them back to prosperity. Cue the ominous music...

In 2002, on the heels of his strong finish, Carpenter was tabbed as the Opening Day starter, facing the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park on April Fool's Day. Unfortunately, it was Chris that looked quite the fool, allowing 6 runs in 2 1/3 innings but escaping with a no decision in a 12-11 slugfest. A shoulder injury subsequently landed him on the DL, returning to allow 3 runs to the Yankees on April 21st. A return engagement was made with the DL for shoulder tendinitis. In August, with a 4-5, 5.28 record in 73 1/3 innings, it was back to the DL for intensive right labrum surgery. The Blue Jays, kind souls that they were, outrighted Chris off the 40-man roster at season's end and offered a minor league, incentive-laden deal to return. Chris chose free agency, signing with the St. Louis Cardinals. In more unfortunate news, he was never able to get out of the minor league blocks in 2003, his doctors discovering that the labrum was torn again. More surgery followed, at which time the Cardinals declined his $2 million option, re-signing him for a mere $300,000 in advance of 2004. It would be $300,000 very well spent.

Finally fully healthy for the first time in a long time, Chris was 7-1, 3.42 out of the gates. Unlike past seasons, where struggles would undoubtedly find him, he kept on cruising. He reached a career best in victories by August 20th and struck out 11 Cincinnati Reds batters for a complete game six days later, only to fall, 1-0, to Aaron Harang. A nerve issue ended his season in September, not before he had crafted a 15-5, 3.46 record with 152 strikeouts in 182 innings. He was honored after the season with his first Comeback Player of the Year award from The Sporting News. But the best was yet to come.


In 2005, Chris came out similar to Billy Madison preparing to destroy a classroom of first graders in dodgeball. The world was in big, big trouble. Days after agreeing to a contract extension through the 2007 season, Chris shut out the Chicago Cubs, his first shutout since his Blue Jay days. Six days later, he mowed down 12 Milwaukee Brewers on strikes in 7 2/3 innings. In June, he made the Blue Jays look like a bunch of chumps, striking out 10 while allowing only one hit in a 7-0 shutout. At 13 wins before the All-Star break, he was tabbed to start the 2005 iteration of the Mid-Summer Classic at Comerica Park, pitching a scoreless inning in the only ASG in which he would make an appearance. Five days later, he outdueled "The Rocket", Roger Clemens, in a three-hit, nine-strikeout gem against the Houston Astros at Busch Stadium. Another complete game victory against the Astros netted him the sacred 20th win of the season in just his 28th start, becoming the fastest to the mark as a Cardinal since the great Dizzy Dean. He finished the season a filthy 21-5, 2.83, with 7 complete games, 4 shutouts and 213 strikeouts in 33 starts, nearly all career-best figures. He stayed sharp in the postseason, going 2-0, 2.14 in 21 innings, but the Cardinals faltered in the 2005 NLCS to the Astros. At season's end, he was winner of the Cy Young Award, finished 8th in MVP voting and cleaned up a handful of other awards, including being named co-St. Louis Baseball Man of the Year with Albert Pujols at the St. Louis BBWAA awards.

Chris got the nod in 2006 to start on Opening Day and reached his 1,000th career strikeout by fanning Nate McLouth of the Pittsburgh Pirates in April. He made his second All-Star team in the summer, though he would not play, and when he defeated the Atlanta Braves on July 4th, he had now defeated every team in baseball except for his Cardinals. Three weeks later, he tag-teamed a 1-0 shutout of the Colorado Rockies with Randy Flores and Jason Isringhausen, the Cardinals' first shutout of the Rox in Denver in the existence of the Colorado club. Though he was not as sharp victory-wise, going 15-8, he posted a strong 3.09 ERA with 184 strikeouts and a league-leading 3 shutouts in 221 2/3 innings. His postseason was a contrast. Against the San Diego Padres, he was 2-0 with a 2.03 ERA in 13 1/3 innings, contributing to advance out of the NLDS. In the NLCS, the New York Mets had his number, pounding him for 7 runs in 11 innings (5.73), but Yadier Molina's home run off Aaron Heilman in Game 7 propelled the Cards to a World Series date with the Detroit Tigers. In his first Fall Classic start, in Game 3, Chris enjoyed some rarefied air with Roger Clemens and Greg Maddux, becoming the third man in history to pitch 8 or more innings (8 in his case) while allowing no runs and 3 hits or better (3 hits for Chris) en route to a 5-0 victory. His services would not be needed again as the Cards won in five games. He was hot off two great seasons, a Cy Young Award and a World Series ring in his possession. The Cardinals extended him through to the 2012 season on a $65-million deal. Life was great.

And it immediately turned to crap to begin 2007. True, Chris made history in his Opening Day outing, but it was the kind of history nobody would be envious of him having made. After dueling with Tom Glavine and the Mets, Carpenter moved to the DL with elbow inflammation. In May, he had surgery to trim bone spurs off his elbow. After a rehab start went awry, it was discovered he would need Tommy John surgery. He did not return until the middle of 2008, making 4 outstanding appearances (1.76 ERA in 15 1/3 innings) before feeling numbness in his pitching forearm. This malady would persist and trouble him the rest of his career. He came back in 2009 only to tear his oblique in his first start. Undaunted, Carpenter seemed to sense something was his to win that season and returned on May 20th with five shutout innings against the Cubbies, winning 2-1. His ERA was just 1.78 exiting June and Chris seemed to be playing a game of limbo, seeing how low it could ultimately go. He was the NL Pitcher of the Month for August, going 5-0, 2.20 in 6 starts, then one-hit his old pals the Brewers on September 7th for his first shutout in just under three years. On the season, he won the NL ERA crown, finishing 17-4 with a 2.24 mark and striking out 144 men in 192 2/3 innings. This earned him his second Comeback Player of the Year award and he was runner up in the Cy Young Award race, finishing behind "The Freak" Tim Lincecum in one of the closest votes of all-time. He was also named winner of the Tony Conigliaro Award for the adversity he had overcome in his career.

Carpenter's arm was giving him more trouble as the calendar turned to the 2010s. He began seeking new treatments in an effort to relieve his pain, but these treatments eventually made it more difficult for him to answer the bell. And yet, through this pain, he made 69 starts over the next two seasons, tying the National League lead each year, while tossing 473 1/3 innings combined, with a 237 1/3 innings total leading the senior circuit in 2011. He was named to his third and final All-Star Game in 2010; he did not appear in the game. He finished 2010 with a 16-9, 3.22 record and 179 strikeouts in 235 innings. Though his record was only 11-9 in 2011, he was tremendous, with a 3.45 ERA and 191 strikeouts. With all the hoopla going on with the exciting conclusion to the American League Wild Card race on the final day of the season, Chris took the mound for St. Louis in Game 162 needing a victory to erase what had once been a 10 1/2 game deficit and usurp the Atlanta Braves for the NL Wild Card spot. Overlooked by the Boston/Tampa Bay one-two punch, Carpenter calmly allowed just 2 hits to the Houston Astros, striking out 11 in an 8-0 domination. When the Bravos lost to the Philadelphia Phillies, the Cardinals snuck into the playoffs and took off. Chris was 4-0 in the postseason, outdueling former teammate Roy Halladay with a 1-0 shutout against the Phillies in the deciding Game 5 of the NLDS. He bested Milwaukee once in the NLCS, then went 2-0, 2.84 in 3 World Series starts, defeating Matt Harrison of the Texas Rangers in Game 7 to win his second World Series ring.

An injury during spring training in 2012 put a big dent on the Cardinals' hopes of repeating as champions, but they managed to overcome Chris' absence. He was diagnosed with thoracic outlet syndrome that June, undergoing surgery in July that requires the removal of a rib, and making it back to the mound in two months, a truly Herculean effort for a surgery that normally wipes out seasons completely in other men. He returned on September 21st, with his team in the middle of a tight race for a wild card spot. He pitched five effective innings before giving up a home run to the Chicago Cubs' Darwin Barney and ending with a no-decision as the Cubs won, 5-4, in extra innings. He ended the year with a record of 0-2 in 17 innings, but had shown enough to be added to the Cardinals' postseason roster when they did make it as the second wild card team. He pitched a great game in Game 3 of the NLDS against the Washington Nationals with 5 2/3 scoreless innings to lead the Cardinals to an 8-0 win. He was less sharp in the NLCS, as he lost both of his starts against Ryan Vogelsong of the San Francisco Giants. In Game 2, he gave up 5 runs in 4 innings to lose, 7-1, then in Game 6, he allowed another 5 runs in 4 innings for a 6-1 loss. In both cases, three of the runs he allowed were unearned, although in Game 2 it was his own error that had caused the problem.

Carpenter was back on the sidelines in spring training 2013, dealing with more arm problems that manifested themselves with numbness and tingling sensations in his pitching arm, hand and shoulder. He said that at 37, he was no longer willing to undergo surgery for the problem, hoping for rest and rehabilitation to the job. If not, he was ready to face the thought of retirement, satisfied with a very successful big league career. He felt sufficiently better to begin throwing off a mound in late May, and faced live batters for the first time in a simulated game in early June. But he never made it back into a game, and on November 20th announced his retirement. He served one year in the Cardinals' front office, essentially in order to see if this was an area in which he wanted to work in the future, but decided to leave in December 2014 to seek other avenues for his post-playing career.

When Carpenter was healthy enough to pitch, he was generally outstanding, particularly following the move to the National League. A fifteen-season career, he pitched 350 games (332 starts) and 2,219 1/3 innings, going 144-94 with a 3.76 ERA and 1,697 strikeouts. Impressively, he was 75-25 in his first 100 decisions for the Cardinals. Only two other pitchers since 1900 had done that well in their first 100 decisions with a club - Pedro Martinez was 78-22 for the Boston Red Sox and Cy Young was 75-25, also for Boston. He became a member of the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame in 2015 and was voted by fans into the St. Louis Cardinals Hall of Fame in 2016. He became eligible for Cooperstown's Hall of Fame in 2018 but received merely 2 votes and dropped off the ballot.

He is not to be confused with contemporary pitcher Chris Carpenter, nor with Cris Carpenter, who spelled his first name differently and whose major league pitching career ended a year before Chris's began.

Notable Achievements[edit]

  • 3-time NL All-Star (2005, 2006 & 2010)
  • NL Cy Young Award Winner (2005)
  • 2004 NL Comeback Player of the Year Award
  • 2009 NL Comeback Player of the Year Award
  • NL ERA Leader (2009)
  • NL Winning Percentage Leader (2009)
  • NL Innings Pitched Leader (2011)
  • NL Complete Games Leader (2005)
  • NL Shutouts Leader (2006)
  • 15 Wins Seasons: 5 (2004-2006, 2009 & 2010)
  • 20 Wins Seasons: 1 (2005)
  • 200 Innings Pitched Seasons: 5 (2001, 2005, 2006, 2010 & 2011)
  • 200 Strikeouts Seasons: 1 (2005)
  • Won two World Series with the St. Louis Cardinals in 2006 and 2011

NL Cy Young Award
2004 2005 2006
Roger Clemens Chris Carpenter Brandon Webb

Further Reading[edit]

  • Jessica Kleinschmidt: "The Hall of Fame Case: Chris Carpenter", "Cut4",, January 7, 2018. [1]
  • Jorge L. Ortiz: "Hall of Fame countdown: Chris Carpenter persevered through injury to produce compelling career", USA Today Sports, December 31, 2017. [2]
  • Joe Posnanski: "Carp or El Toro? It's an unexpected tossup: Comparing the careers of the longtime Cardinals ace to the mercurial Cubs fireballer",, December 31, 2017. [3]

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