By far the most successful player on this list regarding his major league career, Adam Wainwright is not yet finished wearing the birds on the bat. That is a testament to his ability to adjust and adapt with age and overcome tempered expectations.
When Wainwright debuted with the Cardinals in 2005, he pitched out of the bullpen and was your standard reliever of the time in terms of velocity, hitting the mid-90s with his fastball. He entered the rotation in 2007 and became a star in 2009.
In early 2015, Wainwright tore his Achilles tendon, and when he returned, he struggled for the next few years. In 2016, he led the National League in hits allowed and earned runs allowed, and fans started calling for him to retire. From 2017 to 2019, it appeared that the once-dominant Wainwright was cooked.
But in 2020, Wainwright was a revelation. His 3.15 ERA was his lowest since 2014, and he said in interviews that he was having more fun than ever before. 2021 was an even better year for Wainwright, as he finished seventh in Cy Young voting and reduced his ERA even further, to 3.05.
This dramatic uptick in results could be credited to Wainwright’s changing up of his arsenal, relying on his lethal curveball more than ever. He realized that he couldn’t blow hitters away anymore, and he did what so many players can’t do: He successfully changed his approach.
This late-career renaissance began when Wainwright was 38 years old, an age where most players have hung up their cleats. Just two years after it seemed Wainwright would be forced into retirement, he has shown that he will go out on his own terms. His remarkable career turnaround displays that even an old dog can learn new tricks.