Mulder Likely Done At 32


It was 2004. The sting hadn’t quite worn off yet. So close to the ultimate prize – and then it was gone in a flash. The Red Sox blitzed the St. Louis Cardinals in the 2004 World Series in a four-game sweep. Boston celebrated as the curse was finally over. The hoopla surrounding the Sox made it easy for most to forget the other team that year – easy for everyone except the Cardinals and its fans. The pain and the shock consumed the organization during the offseason. They wanted another taste, a sweeter taste of October. So, the Cards looked to improve.

The club felt a dominating ace would have served them well in the series. The Oakland A’s were having a fire sale. The Big Three of Oakland were breaking up, and it would never be the same for any of them or Oakland again. Tim Hudson was the first to go, he was sent to the Atlanta Braves. Next, the A’s shopped Mark Mulder. The big lefty was among the elite hurlers in the league, coming off a 17-win season. The Cardinals jumped at the chance to add him and bolster the rotation.

And in December of 2004, Mark Mulder was on his way to St. Louis in exchange for Dan Haren, Kiko Calero, and Daric Barton. On the surface it seemed like a steal. The best in the NL just got better and St. Louis was excited to return to the World Series and bring home the trophy this time. Mulder would lead the pack with his powerful fastball and devastating splitter. He won at least 15 games in each of the previous four seasons. The best coming in 2001 when he finished second in Cy Young voting with 21 victories. He was only 23-years-old. Now, he was 27 and a seasoned veteran. Mulder was heading into his prime, still young but experienced too.

Mulder was slotted as the Cards ace to with an improving Chris Carpenter who just finished a good first season in St. Louis. With that one-two punch, the Cards were sure to be back in the thick of things in October. The plan was working brilliantly in Mulder’s first season. Mulder was 16-8. Carpenter won 21 games and the Cy Young award. The rest of the rotation fell into place and the team rolled to 100 wins. The success continued in the playoffs and the Cards cruised into the NLCS to face division rival Houston. The run ended in disappointment as the upstart Astros knocked off St. Louis.

The following year, Mulder suffered through injuries to post a 607 record and missed out on the magical World Series run. The Cards got the trophy it coveted, but the player signed to help missed out. Mulder went 0-3 with more injuries in 2007. He only pitched one game in 2008 and missed 2009. He hoped to make a comeback in 2010.

Today, reports indicate that Mulder will not make a comeback. Instead, the 32-year-old will retire from the game too young. In nine seasons, he went 103-60 for the A’s and Cards. It is unfortunate to see such a young player hang it up. Mulder was a force in Oakland and it is easy for St. Louis to wonder what could have been.

Fans and management are left to wonder what a healthy Mulder could have done. Or what Dan Haren could have done in a Redbirds uniform. The struggling 24-year-old and the polished veteran went in opposite directions after the trade. Haren has won at least 14 games since 2005 and is a perennial Cy Young contender.

There were warning signs. Mulder was the first to 17 wins in 2004. He finished on an 0-4 run, and many thought he was hurt. The lefty didn’t tell anyone and continued to throw. Had he taken a break, Mulder may not be retiring today. He could still be in Oakland or St. Louis winning games this summer. The arm is a fragile thing and many pitchers burn out from injury or heavy workloads.

While his agent denies Mulder is done, former teammate and close friend Eric Chavez says the lefty is finished. Knowing he can’t give 100%, Mulder doesn’t want to embarrass himself anymore. He is disappointed it had to end this way, but wasn’t going to come back for nothing. Mulder wanted to contribute and win games again. His body won’t allow him to do that.

His time in St. Louis was short, but Mulder was a class act and a great pitcher in his prime. It’s too bad it had to end so soon.