Throughout his 18-year career, Adam Wainwright has been synonymous with the curveball. His wicked, signature pitch buckled the knees of opponents, and his X/Twitter handle, @UncleCharlie50, pays homage to the pitch that built his career.
The curve helped Adam finish with 2,202 strikeouts, two Gold Gloves, three All-Star appearances and four top 3 finishes in the Cy Young voting. And 200 victories, all for the Cardinals.
The curveball also is the perfect metaphor for Adam’s challenges, on and off the mound. When faced with unexpected adversity, he has responded with grace, class and perseverance to rise above. Each has revealed his extraordinary character, worthy of this Musial Award.
“I think there’s an opportunity in every bad thing that happens,” he says. So, let’s review the curveballs that have revealed Adam’s extraordinary character:
2006: Groomed as a starter, he shifted gears when the team chose him to replace injured closer Jason Isringhausen. Adam didn’t allow an earned run in the postseason, and his ninth-inning strikeout of Brandon Inge sealed the Cardinals’ first World Series win in 24 years. “Closing out a World Series is as good as it gets,” he says.
2011: After accumulating 39 wins in the previous two seasons, Adam was sidelined for a year because of Tommy John surgery and did not appear in the Cardinals’ World Series victory over Texas. To fill his hours, he took up gardening and loved it. Eventually, he founded 5 Oaks Farms on 1,600 acres near his hometown of Brunswick, Georgia, that practices and teaches sustainable farming techniques.
2013: Rebounding from surgery, Adam led the league in victories, shutouts, innings pitched and complete games. More importantly, he challenged himself off the field, founding Big League Impact. It started as a fantasy football league that raised more than $110,000 for St. Louis nonprofit Operation Food Search and Water Mission, which provides clean water in developing nations. Since then, Big League Impact has engaged 100+ major leaguers and hosted more than 250 campaigns to raise over $8 million.
2015: After 39 victories in 2013 and ’14, Adam missed the bulk of the season with a torn Achilles. This time, he devoted free time to the guitar, spawning what could blossom into a second career. His passion also led to a friendship with singer, songwriter and baseball enthusiast Garth Brooks, whose Teammates for Kids Foundation partnered with Big League Impact on the Home Plate Project to address food insecurity.
2020: The pandemic and the ensuing baseball shutdown gave Adam and Garth a chance to expand the Home Plate Project, which grew to include players from each team helping to feed kids in their cities. Later that year, Adam received the Roberto Clemente Award for his character, community involvement and contributions on and off the field.
“Being mentioned in the same sentence as Roberto Clemente is the highest honor of my entire career,” he said when he learned of the award.
2023: The quest to become the third pitcher to earn 200 victories for the Cardinals proved “the toughest of times in my career,” he says. “Throughout the course of the year, I thought I was going to turn a corner and help this team win a lot of games. My arm just didn’t respond.”
He handled the criticism with grace and displayed perseverance. And finally, he earned elusive No. 200 on September 18, pitching seven shutout innings. The credit, he says, goes to his Cardinals teammates and management.
“There were a lot of times this year when they could have said, ‘We tried but it didn’t work.’ Instead, they stuck with me,” he says. “I’m at peace with it. It’s been a great run. I honestly don’t have anything else to give.”
On the contrary, Adam’s history proves he has more to give: in his work with Big League Impact, as a baseball analyst, recording artist or whatever curve he decides to throw next. Even he seems to recognize it, telling the crowd on the final day of the season, “You’re going to get sick of seeing me.”