The older you get, the more you appreciate experience, wisdom, guile. You gravitate toward someone who can do more with less simply because they know how to do it.
As Major League Baseball motors down its regular-season home stretch, it is mostly about speed. Pitchers routinely register 95 mph or more on the radar gun. Hitting success is measured largely in exit velocity.
Scouts and general managers covet blazing fastballs and quick bats. The game demands both and, mostly, the young provide them. More than ever, wily old veterans struggle to keep up.
At 40, Adam Wainwright is old by baseball standards. His fastball rarely exceeds 90 mph. He doesn’t overpower this young, strapping generation of hitters. He just outthinks them, and befuddles them with a sharp breaking curveball that has conceded nothing to age.
This remains the year of the White Sox in our house. Frustrated by my wife’s Cubs and my Cardinals for much of the season, we turned to the White Sox, a first-place team with its share of flamethrowers and young sluggers. They are fun to watch.
Yet, so is Wainwright, and yes, the remote control is finding the Cardinals more often than a month or two ago. Part of it is they are somehow in the mix for the National League’s second wild card spot. Mostly it is Wainwright, who every fifth day reminds those in our 60s or even big leaguers in their 30s that the young are not completely in control.
Sure, they wow us with their launch angles, monstrous home runs and 100-plus mph fastballs. That is what the game has become and, we geezers must admit, it’s not all bad. While we grow weary of the uppercut swings, endless strikeouts and defensive shifts, when Vladimir Guerrero Jr. or Shonei Ohtani or (fill in the blank) connects, we marvel at the bat speed and power.
That said, there is joy in watching 20-something sluggers trudge to the dugout after flailing at that Wainwright curveball, or grounding his 88 mph fastball meekly to third base.
Monday night, he froze Mets star Pete Alonso with a slow, arching curve that wound up over the heart of the plate. Strike three. An exasperated Alonso just dropped his head and walked slowly to the dugout. He looked forlorn and defeated on a night Wainwright won yet again, running his record to 16-7 and lowering his earned run average to 2.88.
Six scoreless innings gave him 12 straight starts of six innings or more. In his past 11 starts, he has nine victories and an ERA under 2.00.
The new generation of baseball stat curators insist pitching wins don’t matter. There are too many variables, they say. They value strikeout rate, ERA, etc., far more.
Fine, have it your way. But the bottom line is this: for a good stretch of the season, Wainwright was giving his team wins when no one else was. That counts for plenty now that every victory, achieved in April or September, impacts playoff fate.
After Monday’s 7-0 win at New York, Wainwright was second in the National League in wins, second in innings pitched (190.1) and eighth in ERA. He’s not just been good for an old guy (as much as we old folks want to celebrate that). He has been good by any measure.
Wainwright announced last week he plans to play next year, extending his run with 39-year-old star catcher Yadier Molina. It is good news for the Cardinals, who should pay him whatever he wants, and for baseball.
A game dominated by young bashers needs some wily old veterans. Molina, Wainwright and others provide balance to a sport tilted so heavily toward youth.
The vets still have a place in a game we fell in love with decades ago. Vicariously, so do we.
Call it a win.
Randy Kindred is a columnist and retired sports editor at The Pantagraph. Follow Randy Kindred on Twitter: pg_kindred