ST. LOUIS — When the universal designated hitter came to Major League Baseball in 2020, and then was adopted permanently starting this season, much more was lost than the hitting ability of pitchers. One unintended consequence was that one of the best trash-talking sports rivalries lost some of its shine from him.
Adam Wainwright, 41, the veteran St. Louis Cardinals ace, and Max Scherzer, 38, the Mets ace, have been exceptional on the mound for more than a decade. Each has helped guide his team to the 2022 postseason, which begins Friday. Wainwright, who posted a 3.71 ERA in nearly 192 regular-season innings, is expected to be available from the bullpen to start the Cardinals’ three-game series against the Philadelphia Phillies, while Scherzer, who posted a 2.29 ERA in approximately 145 entries. , will start Game 1 against the San Diego Padres.
However, the two pitchers are also adept at getting under each other’s skin. They have never been teammates, just longtime fans. And there’s a St. Louis connection: Wainwright is in his 17th season with the Cardinals and Scherzer is from there, grew up rooting for the team and went to college two hours away.
For many years, Wainwright and Scherzer have not only become friends comparing pitch notes or opponents, but also rivals in fantasy football, against each other on the mound and, more fiercely, at the plate. . They’re perfect for each other: Wainwright, known as Waino, is intense on game days but has a mischievous streak and loves pranks, while Scherzer’s nickname is Mad Max and he loves prodding his teammates and friends.
So, during the days leading up to a game in which Wainwright and Scherzer would square off, they would text each other trash talking about who would bring out the best in the other at the plate, even during spring training.
“We are two very, very competitive people with similar interests and tastes,” Wainwright said recently. “It just comes out naturally.”
Mutual admiration among athletes is not uncommon in sports. Wainwright said he texts all the time with other aces in the game, like Clayton Kershaw of the Los Angeles Dodgers and Justin Verlander of the Houston Astros. But those messages are mostly encouraging. “I’m rooting for those guys and they’re rooting for me,” he added.
No trash talking to those other aces. “Max and I have a different relationship,” Wainwright continued. “There’s something built around that.”
When told that his relationship with Wainwright was different than Wainwright’s with Verlander or Kershaw, Scherzer smiled and said, “I can see that because I’m the only one who could give it back to him.”
Scherzer and Wainwright have some similar accomplishments: career wins (Wainwright at 195 and Scherzer at 201), innings (Wainwright at 2,560+ and Scherzer at 2,680+), and both have won World Series rings (Wainwright in 2006 and 2011). , when injured and unable to pitch; Scherzer in 2019). Scherzer has a pretty big lead in Cy Young Awards (three to none), All-Star appearances (eight to three) and strikeouts (3,193 to 2,147).
And, not to forget, on the plate. The two have talked so much about their hitting that Scherzer said they have each other’s hitting stats memorized. “I’ll admit it: he’s a really good hitter,” he said. “He has more power.”
Before the designated hitter came to the National League, Wainwright hit .193 with 10 home runs and 75 RBIs, while Scherzer hit .168 with a measly home run and 30 RBIs. me.”
Better, however, is not by much. “He has a hit on me and he drives me crazy,” Wainwright said. Including the postseason, Scherzer went 1-for-6 with a walk and two strikeouts against Wainwright, while Wainwright went 0-for-6 with four strikeouts against Scherzer.
“You can’t bet on baseball, so we never had any money on the line,” Scherzer said, “but the pride was worth every penny.”
Given the change in MLB rules, Scherzer said he’s missed talking trash about hitting with Wainwright. But luckily they both still have fantasy football. Through his charity, Big League Impact, Wainwright organizes fantasy football leagues and fundraisers. When he was with the Detroit Tigers and Washington Nationals, Scherzer organized fantasy football events for the charity. The two are also in a player-only league.
“I’ve made a lot of money on it,” Wainwright said. “It’s been great. It’s been a good investment for me. The last two years, we have props. We may be playing for our charity, but we also do props. The last two years have been good for me.”
A few years ago, Scherzer’s fantasy football team scored the most points. The donated prize was a custom-made pistol worth nearly $5,000, Wainwright said. But the two had side bets, and Wainwright said he had won more on them than the value of the gun. So Wainwright asked Scherzer to give him the gun so he’d be close at hand. Wainwright, a self-proclaimed gun guy, said it was an easy trade because Scherzer didn’t want the gun anyway.
“So I had it engraved: ‘This gun was won on a bet with Max Scherzer in 2020 and is hereby named Mad Max,'” Wainwright said. “I sent him the Mad Max picture and it was worth playing all year just to be able to send that picture and have him say, ‘Son of a gun.’”
When asked later about Wainwright’s stabbing with the etched gun, Scherzer burst out laughing and said he loved teasing.
Scherzer refused to share the content of his spam messages with Wainwright. He said Wainwright was “good” at it, but noted that it would probably be better if the two were ever on the same team. “I’ve seen some of the things he does to his teammates and they’re very, very good,” Scherzer said, alluding to Wainwright’s infamous pranks.
(Skip Schumaker, the former Cardinals player and current bench coach who has gotten a lot of jokes from Wainwright and has defended himself with his own, said he and Wainwright used to goad each other over text messages if they got the better of each other. as opponents They still disagree on a called third strike and “it’s been back and forth for eight years”).
Wainwright praised Scherzer’s jokes. “He leads you to it,” he said. “That’s how he is naturally. You’re about to talk trash all the time when it’s between me and him. It’s really kind of a riot.”
The two also have serious conversations. Wainwright said they started talking on the phone more than eight years ago. And if Wainwright was about to face a team or hitter in Scherzer’s division, or vice versa, one called or texted the other to share their thoughts.
“Pitchers, we respect each other on the mound,” Scherzer said. But aside from that, they had time to tease each other between starts.
“It just comes with the territory of being a starting pitcher,” Cardinals shortstop Paul DeJong said. “Those guys have nothing to do but screech and talk about the game. Waino gets a lot of dad jokes because he doesn’t use profanity. He’d say it’s like the G-rated version, but it’s fun. He definitely has that charm.”
Unlike his former Cardinals teammates, first baseman Albert Pujols and catcher Yadier Molina, Wainwright has not announced his retirement by the end of this season. Until some September issues and a dead-arm stretch, he had been terrific and helped St. Louis earn its fourth straight playoff berth. In the postseason, he has a career 2.83 ERA in 114⅓ innings.
Scherzer dealt with some injuries this season and has two years left on the record-setting, three-year, $130 million contract he signed with the Mets last offseason. On and off the field, he helped transform the Mets and led them to their first trip to the postseason since 2016.
For Wainwright and Scherzer to meet in October, they face difficult roads. The Cardinals, winners of the NL Central, would need to get past the Phillies and then defending World Series champion Atlanta, which earned a bye to the division series. The Mets, the NL’s top wild-card team, would need to get past the Padres and then the Dodgers, who had the best record in MLB and earned the other NL first-round bye.
Fear not: Whether they meet on the diamond or not, the fantasy football season has plenty of weeks left.