Waino wants a Cy Young something fierce, but there's one individual award he'd like even more
MAR 04, 2014 1:58p ET
JUPITER, Fla. -- Adam Wainwright wants it. A clubhouse attendant would bring over a baseball from the opposing clubhouse for Chris Carpenter to autograph, often with a special request: "Please sign as 2005 Cy Young winner."
"Every time I saw him write that, I'd be like, 'That would be so cool,'" Wainwright says. "So I'm envious of that, no doubt."
That Wainwright has come oh-so-close to being able to sign with his own Cy Young postscript doesn't lessen his longing. Three times he has finished among the top three in the voting, including last season, when he went 19-9 with a 2.94 ERA and led the majors in innings pitched. He will admit he "probably" should have won in 2009, when he received more first-place votes than winner Tim Lincecum but settled for third place, four points behind his teammate Carpenter. Only Clayton Kershaw has matched Wainwright's consistency in NL voting over the past five years, but Kershaw has won twice.
Coming close isn't the same.
"Nobody's ever sent a ball over and asked you to sign, 'Three top-three finishes in Cy Young,'" Wainwright says.
As well as he understands the fickleness of awards voting and as much as he says he's "at peace" with his plight, the Cardinals' ace does not downplay his desire to be officially named the top pitcher in his league.
"You don't even know how bad I want to win a Cy Young," Wainwright says. Then, referring to individual achievements he adds, "I want to win a Cy Young worse than anything."
Still, baseball offers one other individual honor that would mean even more to the tall right-hander.
I have enjoyed at least a dozen one-on-one interviews with the affable Georgian since he arrived in St. Louis and have long appreciated his bulldog determination almost as much as his distaste for answering questions with cliches. I also have come to recognize that, as much as he wants to excel on the mound, his family and his faith are what truly drive him.
So I wasn't quite sure how he would respond to one question when we talked on the picnic table outside the Cardinals' clubhouse at Roger Dean Stadium the other day. I halfway figured he would be like many players and dodge the query, or at least hedge his answer.
If you had to choose, would you rather win a Cy Young or a Roberto Clemente Award, the game's top humanitarian honor?
“The main thing I care about is helping people. It really is.”
He paused just briefly: "I'd take Roberto Clemente. If I ever had a chance to win that award, it would be more important than anything I've ever done."
"The only thing you have in this world that lasts is your legacy," he says. "I'm not saying I'd be known as a great player if I stopped playing today, but what I care more about is, 'Did I change people's lives for the good of humanity?', and not just because of what I believe in. God is my driving force, but the main thing I care about is helping people. It really is."
In the past year, since signing his five-year, $97.5 million contract extension, Wainwright's work off the baseball field has become better known. He started a fantasy football league (wainosworld.com) that provided fans a chance to take on Wainwright and three Cardinals teammates. The goal is to involve all 30 major league clubs eventually; four already have been added for 2014. Wainwright calls a benevolent trip to Haiti he made with his wife, Jenny, and others the highlight of his offseason.
Both efforts were for his two main causes, St. Louis-based Operation Food Search and Water Missions International. Later this year the Wainwrights plan to formally announce their foundation.
Don't think his new contract was the impetus behind his charitable endeavors. Sure, the added millions allow him to do more, but Wainwright says he and Jenny always have tried to give back.
"We have a belief system that goes back to when we were in the minor leagues," he says. "We've been giving at least 10 percent of our salary no matter what, whether we're making 20 million or 20 dollars. Ten percent of it at least is going toward mission and God's work. That's what we believe, that's what we do."
While 10 percent of the $19.5 million salary he will make this year goes a lot farther than what he pulled in during his minor-league days, giving now is less difficult than it was in the early days of his career, when he had less to work with.
"Now, 10 percent, I don't feel that, so you go above and beyond," Wainwright says. "Back then, 10 percent was a sacrifice."
To think he would actually try to win a Roberto Clemente Award would be insulting, though he doesn't hide his desire to win a Cy Young. Still, it's not like a void in his trophy case will cause him concern.
"I know that what I do on the baseball field is pretty good," he says. "If I continue to do what I know I can and work as hard as I can, the numbers will be fine. Eventually, if I keep being myself, one of these years might be good enough."
One of these years might be good enough to win both.
You can follow Stan McNeal on Twitter at @stanmcneal or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.