It’s time to pay tribute to four legends in their (possibly) final matches.
20 years ago, nothing was like it is now. There were practically no social networks, no iPhones or artificial intelligence.
This weekend, four baseball legends may don a Major League uniform for the final time. In the case of Venezuelan Miguel Cabrera and Adam Wainwright, the matter is certain, with their official intentions to retire. With Zack Greinke and Joey Votto, there are no official announcements, but these could be their last matches.
Originally, he was a shortstop, but he became a third baseman. When he came around in 2003, the Marlins already had a third baseman, Puerto Rican Mike Lowell. When Cabrera debuted on June 20, 2003, he hit a golden home run to beat Tampa Bay.
He was First of 511 home runs in his career (so far) and his first hit of .3168. Two Most Valuable Player Awards, a Triple Crown of batting and a World Series title (in 2003) were part of his 21 seasons as a pure hitter, most of them with the Tigers. And of course, He concluded his career With a final participation in the 2023 World Baseball Classic With the Venezuelan national team. He’ll be a Hall of Famer at his first opportunity.
Cardinals fans were concerned when St. Louis traded J.D. Drew and Eli Marrero for him, Ray King and Jason Marquez in December 2003.
From then on, Wainwright and his curveball were an institution for the Cardinals. He was a reliever in 2006 when closer Jason Isringhausen was injured. In October of that year, Wainwright made two of the most famous pitches in franchise history: the curveball that hit Carlos Beltran in Game 7 of the National League Championship Series to advance to the World Series, and the over-the-top pitch that hit Brandon Inge to end the Fall Classic.
Wainwright was always the starting catcher, and in that sense, he matched up with Puerto Rican catcher Edier Molina for the Cardinals. The duo set a record with a total of 328 starts as drummers. Wainwright had won just 200 games at the major league level for St. Louis, and now he wanted to hit again in the major league.
To be clear: Zach Greinke has not announced his retirement. But there are a lot of rumours, especially after he asked for the ball after coming off his start on Tuesday, perhaps thinking he was going to get the 225th win of his excellent career. (The Royals bullpen had other plans.) With the injuries he suffered this year, plus the worst ERA of his career, that start might have been the last of his major league career.
And what a race it was! Greinke has always been a unique and unpredictable character, which may distract us from how great a pitcher he is. In 2009, he won the Cy Young Award as a member of the Royals, but he had perhaps his best seasons with the Dodgers, including a season in which he went 19-3 with a 1.66 ERA. He was never one to strike out many hitters, remaining consistent and remarkably healthy. His 540 starts since his debut in 2004 are the most in this stretch, by far; Only Justin Verlander stands behind him at 75 years old. However, despite making postseason appearances with four different teams, including the Dodgers and Astros during some of his best seasons, Greinke never won a World Series. But Greinke always gave the impression of being an outsider, like he came from another planet to play baseball and now it was time for him to return.
Like Greinke, Votto has not announced his retirement and there is an opportunity to play next year. But just in case…
Votto was baseball’s most under-the-radar star. I know this seems impossible to believe, given his social media exploits, but it’s the truth. There was a time when Foto was a flashpoint in analytical debate, because so much of his value rested on his striking eye and drawing ability; There were discussions midway through the broadcast about whether or not he was swinging enough on pitches outside the zone with runners on base. Foto simply withstood his critics, in part because he was ahead of his time. It took us a while to catch up.
Votto led the National League in on-base percentage seven times and reached base more times in his career than Vladimir Guerrero Sr., his one-time contemporary and inducted into the Hall of Fame a few years earlier. Votto also provided power, and just two years ago, he hit 36 home runs. His production was lost in Cincinnati, with a team that didn’t have much success during his career there, but that’s not his fault. He has played just four postseason series in Cincinnati (although that may change this year) and has yet to win any of them.
Votto’s contract includes a 2024 club option worth $20 million, which the team likely won’t exercise, but it’s possible he could re-sign with the Reds (or sign with another team) for less money. Likewise, the 10-year, $225 million contract he signed with the Reds in 2012 should be remembered as an agreement that benefited both parties. Votto has become quite the character, deserving of his status as the friendliest and most comedic player in the major leagues, as well as a Cincinnati icon. He will also make a good case for the Hall of Fame when he decides to induct them.