Ten years ago, trade gave Waino 'fresh start'
Deal brought righty to St. Louis from hometown Braves in career-changing move
LOS ANGELES -- It was Dec. 13, 2003, and Adam Wainwright's cell was vibrating at the absolute worst moment.
Here he was in Gainesville, Ga., talking to his then-girlfriend Jenny's father, Jim Curry, about asking for her hand in marriage and his phone would not stop.
"So I turned it off," he said.
That seemed like a good plan until the land line at the house started ringing and Curry got up to answer it.
"I'm thinking, 'We're having a pretty important talk, why would he get up and answer the phone?'" Wainwright said.
It was a good thing Curry did, because it turned out that it was Wainwright's mom, Nancy, calling with some life-changing news of her own -- he'd been traded from his hometown Braves to the St. Louis Cardinals. She knew that her son was in the midst of an important conversation, but time was of the essence.
"I said, 'Jim, I hate to interrupt, but the Braves are saying they have to talk to him and it's going to be on ESPN any minute,'" Nancy said.
"She was crying," Wainwright said. "The whole city where I live was crying. Turned out to be one of the greatest moments of my life. He acknowledged that I could marry his daughter, which was great."
At that moment, though, the trade to the Cardinals did not seem like such a good thing, given that Wainwright was from Georgia and had dreamed of one day playing for the Braves.
Wainwright, though, would come to see the trade as a blessing.
"Getting traded to the St. Louis Cardinals rejuvenated my career and gave me a fresh start," he said. "I've had a chance to play in two World Series and win two rings, and countless playoff games. I mean, it's just really exciting to be a member of the St. Louis community, as well as being a Cardinal. But it's a huge honor for me. I'm so blessed and glad to be where I'm at."
Along with Wainwright the Cardinals also received pitchers Jason Marquis and Ray King in exchange for outfielder J.D. Drew and catcher Eli Marrero.
At the time, the casual baseball fan was likely not familiar with who Wainwright was. He was 22 years old and had not yet pitched above Double-A.
While Marquis and King provided pitching depth for the Cardinals, the key to the deal for then-GM Walt Jocketty was Wainwright. Knowing that the Braves and their GM John Schuerholz badly wanted Drew, Jocketty stood firm.
"If you looked at his numbers back then, he had some real strong numbers, a lot of innings pitched, a lot of strikeouts -- his walk-to-strikeout ratio was really good," Jocketty said of Wainwright. "We had great reports on him, and he was a guy that we held out for in the deal. We made it clear to them there was no deal unless we got Wainwright, and they finally gave in."
When Tony La Russa, who was then the Cardinals' manager, watched Wainwright throw for the first time during Spring Training in 2004, he knew right away the right-hander had the stuff to be a good Major League pitcher, but there were still questions to be answered.
"What you had no idea about was just what his insides were," La Russa said. "Over time, we saw he has a fierce determination to be a great pitcher. He's got the stuff and the talent, and he's got the willingness to work."
Nearly 10 years later, it is hard to imagine that day having turned out any better. Wainwright and his wife, Jenny, have three daughters, and he has become the ace of the Cardinals' pitching staff, inheriting the role from Chris Carpenter.
Revered in St. Louis, Wainwright is now passing on the lessons he learned from Carpenter onto the team's young pitchers like Joe Kelly and Michael Wacha. It's hard to imagine Wainwright was ever part of another organization, or was less than thrilled to be traded from the Braves.
"I always told the boys that God has a better plan for us than we do," Nancy said. "He was literally picked up and put in the right place at the right time. Who would have known? And now, look at what happened. That's kind of the story of Adam's life. He's always been notoriously in the right place at the right time."
The Cardinals would probably agree wholeheartedly with that.
Steve Gilbert is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Inside the D-backs, and follow him on Twitter @SteveGilbertMLB. MLB.com reporters Mark Sheldon and Jenifer Langosch contributed to this story. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.