Nearly 23,000 players have appeared in a major league game. Roughly 22,000 of them have finished their big league careers. Do the math, and approximately 150 players finish their careers each and every season, probably more than that these days with nearly double the number of teams in the league compared to a century ago.
Some players barely get a sip of coffee, let alone a cup, the Moonlight Grahams of history, stepping onto the field once - or if they're fortunate, a handful of times. Others play a few nondescript seasons before being lost to the annals of time, memorialized mostly in the pages of Baseball Reference, remembered by their most devoted fans for a key hit here, a great defensive play there, or a well-timed punchout to snuff out the opposition's rally.
A scarce few players become legends, performers the game ingrains into the minds and memories of multitudes of fans, with those special moments filling up column inches and highlight reels long after the players' careers are over. And the very best of them earn a hallowed spot in Cooperstown, their plaque hanging on the wall of the Baseball Hall of Fame, allowing them to sign memorabilia with the tagline "HOF," the greatest honor the game can bestow upon its players.
One of the greatest Cardinals players ever is near the end. Adam Wainwright, who will turn 42 years old before the season ends, has reached the twilight of his tremendous career. It's debatable whether he'll ever be inducted among the Cooperstown greats, but his place in the St. Louis Cardinals Hall of Fame is assured and has been for several seasons.
This season has been a brutal one for Waino. Things looked bad after his June 17 start left him with a 5.56 ERA. Things look simply awful now, with the last three starts - culminating with another short outing on Independence Day - leaving him with a 7.66 ERA on the year.
The reasons for Wainwright to continue pitching are understandable. First and foremost, he wants to help his team. Getting to 200 victories must be a tempting target. Undoubtedly, he feels an obligation to attempt to live up to his contract. The roughly $8.5M he is due for the rest of the season isn't nothing, but most likely it's little motivation for someone with the character Wainwright has displayed over his 19-year career.
Time is undefeated. That will never change. We all age, and our skills, whatever they may be, eventually diminish. For a professional athlete, that tends to be relatively early in life. When you've been one of the best at what you do for essentially your entire conscious existence, that dropoff from the top must be akin to jumping out of an airplane, nerve-wracking if not terrifying.
Whenever Wainwright decides he's done, he'll leave the game with numerous accolades fitting his contributions. St. Louis fans will welcome him with riotous applause every time he makes an appearance at Busch Stadium. That Cardinals HOF red jacket will fit him perfectly.
The conclusion to Wainwright's career is coming. Sadly, it could be sooner than anyone expected.