Past Cardinals Comeback Performances

While Scott Rolen is a leading candidate for the 2006 National League Comeback Player of the Year Award, if he takes it, he will not be alone. Five Cardinals have won previously and on the other side of the coin, two ex-Cardinals also earned the recognition the year after leaving St. Louis.

Scott Rolen has every right to feel satisfied with his fine 2006 campaign, especially coming off a lost 2005. After two shoulder surgeries and an arduous rehabilitation over the winter, the St. Louis Cardinals' third baseman is a top candidate for the National League Comeback Player of the Year Award.

Read more about Rolen's candidacy in the article "Rolen Vying to Join Comeback Cardinals".

If he wins, Rolen will not be alone. One current teammate, Chris Carpenter, and one recent ex-mate, Matt Morris, each have received the same recognition – Carpenter in 2004 and Morris in 2001.

With five winners since the Award was established by The Sporting News in 1965, the Cardinals are tied for the second-most awards with five other organizations - Atlanta, Cincinnati, the Angels, Boston and Oakland. The Los Angeles Dodgers are first with seven former winners.

In addition to Carpenter and Morris, John Tudor (1990), Joaquin Andujar (1984) and Lou Brock (1979) are the other Cardinals winners. Let's look into each of these.

Chris Carpenter (2004)
While credit deservedly goes to the players, a nod also has to be given to the organization to foster an environment where a player is given the chance to return to former heights. There is no better example than Chris Carpenter.

Of the five past winners, only Chris Carpenter wasn't coming back from having achieved past success in the Cardinal uniform. In the late ‘90's, interning in Toronto along with Roy Halladay, Carpenter learned at the knees of Roger Clemens, Pat Hentgen, Dave Stieb and Woody Williams and threw to Mike Matheny behind the plate.

After showing great promise in his first two and a half seasons, Carpenter underwent the first of his surgeries, on his elbow, at the end of the 1999 campaign. He struggled with the long ball in 2000, allowing 30 home runs. His ERA ballooned to 6.26 and he was re-assigned to the bullpen. Later, Carp struggled with shoulder problems and after undergoing surgery for a labrum tear in September 2002, he was outrighted to Triple-A. Carpenter refused the assignment, instead opting for free agency.

Once Carpenter was a free agent, he had a pair of inside salesmen in former teammates Williams and Matheny, now Cardinals. Carp signed a deal for the next two seasons that ultimately brought him $2.5 million, but also allowed him time to recover.

In fact, Carpenter tried to pitch in 2003, but after eight generally-unsuccessful rehab appearances, he underwent a second procedure on his shoulder. He returned strong in 2004, making 28 starts; his 15-5 record with a 3.46 ERA shining brightly.

Though Carpenter was unable to pitch after mid-September due to a nerve problem in his arm, his team won 20 of his 28 starts. 18 of his outings were quality starts and eight times, Carpenter did not allow a single walk. There are many who wonder if the Cardinals might have prevailed in the 2004 World Series had Carpenter been able to perform.

Since that comeback campaign, Carpenter has only gotten better. The same man who put up a 49-50 record in Toronto has won 36 and lost only 12 since the start of last season, with an ERA under three runs per game.

Matt Morris (2001)
Ultimately, the combination of his own inconsistency and an expensive free-agent market for pitching led to Matt Morris leaving his only professional baseball home, the St. Louis Cardinals, last winter following more than ten seasons in the organization.

Yet, the team's former first-round draft selection, 12th overall in 1995, experienced some tremendous times while wearing the uniform and also bounced back from adversity. Overall, Morris won 101 regular season games with the Cards, posting a 3.61 ERA and went 5-5, 4.05 in 15 post-season appearances.

There seems little doubt that Morris' 22-8, 3.16 ERA 2001 season will rank as his finest ever, making his selection for the Comeback Player of the Year Award most fitting. His wins were the most by a Cardinal since Bob Gibson's 23 in 1970. Morris' 15 home victories set a new team record.

Morris placed third in the National League Cy Young Award race and also received votes in the Most Valuable Player Award balloting that season. However, how Morris got to those heights is at least as interesting.

After two stints on the disabled list with shoulder problems in 1998, Morris missed the entire 1999 season after "Tommy John" ligament replacement surgery in his right, pitching elbow. He came back in late May of 2000, but in a limited role, appearing in 31 games out of the bullpen as he slowly regained his strength, stamina and effectiveness, setting up his phenomenal 2001 return to the rotation.

John Tudor (1990)
Originally having come up with Boston, Tudor experienced his greatest season in 1985. He overcame a 1-7 start after coming to the Cardinals from the Pirates with Brian Harper in return for George Hendrick and a minor leaguer. The lefty finished 1985 at 21-8 with a flashy 1.93 ERA and led the National League with ten shutouts. Tudor would have taken the Cy Young Award but came in second to the Mets' Dwight Gooden, who had an even better season.

Tudor went on to win 29 more games for the Redbirds over the next two-and-a-half seasons, but suffered a broken leg while in the dugout in 1987. He moved on to the Los Angeles Dodgers in an August, 1988 trade for slugger Pedro Guerrero, despite leading the league in ERA at the time.

Over 11 career post-season starts, Tudor posted a 4-2 record with a 3.41 ERA. He pitched for the Cards in both the 1985 and 1987 World Series and earned a ring in 1988 with the Dodgers.

The 1989 season was lost for Tudor as he pitched in only six games, having gone down with elbow problems. The next winter, he was granted free agency and at age 36, returned to the Cards at the bargain-basement price of just $350,000.

Tudor made his last hurrah in 1990 a stellar one, winning 12 games and losing only four, with a sparkling 2.82 ERA. That was good enough to win the NL Comeback Player of the Year Award that season before his elbow finally ended his career.

Joaquin Andujar (1984)
Long before Ozzie Guillen, there was the brash Andujar, who came over to St. Louis in 1981 after five-plus stormy years with the Houston Astros, ultimately having been demoted to their bullpen.

The temperamental right-hander thrived under Whitey Herzog, going 6-1 as a starter over the remainder of 1981. He was even better in 1982, going 15-10 with a 2.47 ERA in the regular season and starred in the playoffs as a key member of what remains today the Cardinals' last World Championship team.

In 1983, Andujar represented all that went wrong for the defending NL champs, who missed the playoffs completely, finishing in fourth place, four games under .500. Andujar won just six of his 34 starts, losing 16 and posting the worst ERA of his career, 4.16.

But, in 1984 at age 31, the Dominican came back with a vengeance, posting his best-ever campaign. Andujar's 20 wins and four shutouts paced the League as did his 261-1/3 innings-pitched. He was an All-Star and earned a Gold Glove along with his Comeback Award.

Sadly, Andujar couldn't maintain the high. After another stellar regular season in 1985, Andujar was the poster child for his team's implosion in Game Seven of the World Series, getting ejected in the game following the infamous Don Denkinger blown call.

After that, Andujar was exiled to Oakland, where he was originally sentenced to miss the entire 1986 season along with a group of other players for cocaine use. But, the sentence was reduced and while Andujar did win 12 games for the A's that season, his career decline had begun. Ironically, Tony La Russa became his manager during that 1986 campaign. By 1989, some combination of ills drove the colorful Andujar out of baseball at the age of 36.

Lou Brock (1979)
The history of Lou Brock - how he ceased being a Chicago Cub and how he became a St. Louis Cardinal World Series hero - has been told many times by many others more eloquently than could I. But, few remember the Hall-of-Famer also actually tasted enough misfortune during his Cardinals career to have earned the Comeback Player of the Year Award.

By 1978, Brock was 39 years of age. It was a terrible year for Brock and for the franchise overall. Under the managerial threesome of Vern Rapp, Jack Krol and Kenny Boyer, the Cards limped home with a 93-loss season.

Amid whispers he was washed up, in 1978 the outfielder hit just .221, over 50 points lower than his next-worst season as a Cardinal. In 92 games, he was successful in stealing 17 bases, a far cry from his record-setting 118, achieved just four seasons prior. He had lost his regular spot in the line-up and was rumored to have been advised to retire.

But, at age 40, under Boyer, Brock not only came back one more time, but he also made his final season one to remember. Brock hit .304 and swiped 21 bases, helping his team improve to 86 wins. He was recognized as both a National League All-Star and the circuit's Comeback Player of the Year before retiring as baseball's all-time stolen base king. His records of 118 steals in a season and 893 in his career were later eclipsed by Rickey Henderson, a spark plug for La Russa's A's for many years.

The others…
Five other Comeback Player of the Year winners got away from the Cardinals, only to have excelled elsewhere; yet only two of them earned the recognition within three years of leaving St. Louis.

Both Andres Galarraga with Colorado and Terry Pendleton with Atlanta had impressive seasons, winning just after departing the Cardinals. Let's look at their final seasons in St. Louis to see why they left and why they were in a position to take the Award the next year.

Andres Galarraga (1992)
I still remember my excitement when the Cardinals acquired "The Big Cat" following the 1991 season from Montreal for pitcher Ken Hill. After all, then in the prime of his career at age 31, the first baseman had hit more than 20 home runs three times and posted greater than 80 RBI in four consecutive seasons. He had even registered double-digit totals in stolen bases three times, highlighting his legendary quickness both with his legs and glove.

But, his brief time as a Cardinal was a complete disaster. As luck would have it, Galarraga's wrist was broken while batting in just the second game of the 1992 season. He would appear in 95 games for Joe Torre's club, but hit just ten home runs and batted .243.

Following the season, he became a free agent and I don't recall anyone being too upset when he moved to the fledgling Colorado Rockies. It didn't take long for Galarraga to reach new heights with the Blake Street Bombers, though. In the 1993 season, he rebounded to hit a league-best .370, the highest mark of his career, driving in 98 runs in the process, good enough to win the Comeback award.

As a footnote, later in his career, after a bout with cancer, Galarraga earned his fifth All-Star selection and second Comeback Player of the Year Award with the 2000 Atlanta Braves. He went on to play 19 seasons in the majors, hitting .288 and finishing with 399 home runs.

Terry Pendleton (1991)
Unlike Galarraga, who had excelled in Montreal previously, it hurt especially badly to lose third baseman Terry Pendleton following the 1990 season. After all, he had been a Cardinal since being drafted in 1982 and grew up in the organization.

Though he had been with the big club for seven seasons already, Pendleton was just 29 years old, with his best baseball yet to be played. He was a veteran of the 1985 and 1987 League Championship squads and was expected by many to be a Cardinal for life.

Yet, Pendleton struggled with injuries and declining production in 1988. He had picked up his second Gold Glove in 1989, but was again hampered by injuries, Pendleton had an especially rough season at the plate in 1990.

With phenom Todd Zeile shifting from catcher to third base, Pendleton slid to part-time status, posting a career-low .230 batting average. His 1990 home run output of six was less than half that of the previous season and most every other offensive stat was in decline, too. Losing playing time to the highly-touted Zeile was one thing, but when Pendleton also began to sit in favor of Denny Walling, it had to sting.

Just a month after tasting free agency that November, Pendleton signed what was then a huge contract with the Atlanta Braves, netting him greater than $10 million over the next four seasons. And, like Galarraga would achieve starting two years later, Pendleton reached his career heights after leaving the Cardinals.

Playing like he had still something to prove, the third baseman led the National League in 1991 in hits, with 187, and batting average (.319). He smacked 22 home runs, 34 doubles and eight triples for Atlanta.

That performance not only netted him the Comeback recognition, but more importantly, Pendleton picked up his first and only Most Valuable Player Award as he and his new Braves mates began their unprecedented title run that ran unbroken until this season.

The others

For reference, the other three ex-Cardinals winners of the Comeback Player of the Year Award are pitcher Jerry Reuss (Dodgers, 1980 winner, nine years after parting ways with the Cards), pitcher John Denny (1983, Philadelphia, four years later) and outfielder Lonnie Smith (1989, Atlanta, four years later).

Brian Walton can be reached via email at

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