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Brian Walton's news and commentary on the St. Louis Cardinals (TM) and their minor league system

Mark Mulder, Jim Palmer and unretiring

Over the years, the sporting world has seen countless comeback attempts, whether from athletes or coaches. Perhaps no other sport has experienced more “unretirings” than boxing, where it seems the need for esteem or cash or both can bring back many men into their 40s.

The move is a bit rarer in Major League Baseball, though not unheard of.

On Tuesday, ESPN analyst and former St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Mark Mulder announced plans to take the mound again. The left-hander, a two-time all-star in Oakland, was dealt to St. Louis before the 2005 season. Mulder had one good year as a Cardinal before securing a contract extension, then struggling with shoulder problems and finally retiring in 2008.

Supposedly a new delivery has cured what ailed the now-36-year-old Arizona resident, who is refreshed and ready to go after over five years away from competing.

Remembering how Mulder experimented with changing his motion before giving up in 2008 makes me wonder what could be different now other than elapsed time. (In fact, I discussed this very subject with Mulder in June 2008, one month before he pitched in his final game. Subscribers to The Cardinal Nation can read our conversation here.)

Upon hearing the Tuesday news, I could not help but think about another, even more highly publicized comeback attempt of a star pitcher after sitting out over a half-decade as well.

In the case of Jim Palmer, it was not injury that caused him to retire in 1984 after 19 Major League seasons as much as it was declining effectiveness due to advancing age.

In 1991, the former Orioles star and then-broadcaster made headlines when he decided to come back after having sat out seven long years.

What made it even more notable is that Palmer returned just seven months after having been most deservedly inducted into the Hall of Fame. The comeback attempt of a Cooperstown-enshrined player was a first in baseball history.

While the story made great column fodder, it did not end nearly as well. At the age of 45, Palmer’s mind was ready, but his body was not up to the task. After just one rough spring training outing for the O’s in March 1991, Palmer called it quits again. His permanent record continues to show 1984 as his official finale.

We will see this spring if Mulder can accomplish what Palmer could not. While the left-hander has an age advantage, one has to wonder if the shoulder problems that pushed him out of the game in the first place are still lingering.

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Brian Walton

Brian Walton runs The Cardinal Nation and The Cardinal Nation Blog, covering the St. Louis Cardinals and minor league system.
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23 Responses to “Mark Mulder, Jim Palmer and unretiring”

  1. blingboy says:

    The Palmer thing was just ridiculous. With Mulder, hopefully, he can get past his mid-life crisis without hurting himself. As to his chances, 5 years away from ‘Dr. Wristbone Connected to the Ankle Bone’ couldn’t have hurt.

    I hope and pray we never see Carp in one of these articles.

  2. blingboy says:

    A couple random thoughts:

    Somehow I just can’t wait to see what kind of absurd contract somebody gives Corey ‘now both knees don’t work’ Hart.

    I was surprised to read that the Yankees have not contacted Uncle Walt about Brandon ‘I’ll tap anybody’s shinguards I want to cuz Johnny’s got my back’ Phillips.

  3. Brian Walton says:

    I read that Mark Prior retired the other day. He last pitched in the majors in 2006. That is persistence.

  4. crdswmn says:

    MLB is outlawing the home plate collision. Haven’t heard any details but will be interesting to see if new rule requires the catcher to keep a lane open to the runner, and if there is a penalty for blocking the plate.

  5. Bw52 says:

    Hart gone from the NL.Went to Seattle.Seattle traded for Logan Morrison also.Seattle has about a boatload of first basemen on their roster.Corey Hart,Justin Smoak,Jesus Montero and Logan Morrison.Morrison and Hart can play OF ……….very poorly.Seattle has a load of INF also.Come on Mo…………Nick Franklin ……………… to Seattle Mo………………they want young pitching…………hello Lynn or Kelly and a prospect maybe………………?
    Why in the hell does a 31 yr old AAA pitcher get a roster spot?

  6. blingboy says:

    Another random thought is Matt Adams’s horrible platoon split. Unless Taveras is on board opening day, what are we going to do vs lefties?

    Jay and Robinson both stink vs lefties, so there would be no gain in moving Craig to 1B.

    We would need a RF and/or 1B capable guy who could hit in the 5-6-7 spot vs lefties. Adams is not even 7 spot worthy vs them.

    Other than Taveras making the opening day roster, does anyone see a solution with in house personel?

    • crdswmn says:

      I think you are making a mountain out of a small sample size molehill.

      • Brian Walton says:

        I agree. Why ignore multiple seasons of minor league results and fixate on a relatively small number of MLB rookie at-bats?

        In that same vein, some (not here) have already written off Kolten Wong.

        • crdswmn says:

          It’s the instant gratification, what-have-you-done-for-me-lately mentality of many fans. It is a constant source of frustration for me, among other things.

        • blingboy says:

          So Mo wants to go without Plan B if Adams doesn’t hit lefties but he doesn’t want to go without Plan B if Wong doesn’t hit lefties?

          That makes no sense for two reasons. First, production from Adams’s middle of the order spot is more important than from Wong’s bottom of the order spot. Second, Wong hit lefties in the minors too.

          • Brian Walton says:

            OK, even though I do not share the concern, I will offer an answer. Simply play Molina at first against LHP…

          • crdswmn says:

            Adams’ minor league splits against lefties is .877 OPS
            Wong’s minor league splits against lefties is. 745 OPS

            With Carpenter at 3B and Wong at 2B, do you really want the only back up for both to be Daniel Descalso? An adequate back up is needed more at 2B than 1B.

            • blingboy says:

              You are comparing OPS between a middle of the order power hitter and Wong? Meaningless in the extreme. Wong hit lefties in Milb just fine for a 2B.

              You are missing the point I am making. Just as we need one of the backup infielders to be RH bat who can hit lefties, we need one of the backup outfielders to be a RH bat who can hit lefties, so Craig can move to first in place of Adams. That backup outfielder could be a RF/1B type.

              • Brian Walton says:

                Does your team have a 25-man roster or 30? 😉

              • crdswmn says:

                What was the biggest complaint everyone made last season? That the bottom of the order was an offensive black hole? Now you don’t care? Would it matter more if Wong hit at the top of the order (which he might, some time).

                You are getting too hung up on batting order. You are also getting hung up on a small sample size that means squat. I have no problems with playing Adams against lefties. That is what Brian and I have been trying to tell you, it’s not the problem you think it is.

                • blingboy says:

                  “…it’s not the problem you think it is.”

                  It might not be. I would go that far. I do not think Mo will go with both Jay and Robinson as the extra outfielders. It is a situation that may shake out in ST rather than this winter, I could go that far as well.

                  If Taveras is 100% from the beginning of ST, I would not be surprised to see him get a roster spot. The idea being get while the getting is good. Of course, I do not assume he will be. He could have his foot pointing to the back for all we know.

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