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.
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.