Former Baseball Star Adam Wainwright Embarks on Recording Career
Adam Wainwright, who played his entire Major League Baseball career for the St. Louis Cardinals, has released his debut single, "Time to Fly," a country song that celebrates his team's fans. A full-length studio album will follow on Feb. 23.
Throughout Wainwright’s playing days, which concluded following the 2023 season, he became arguably the greatest pitcher in franchise history not named Bob Gibson, and his hallmark personality trait was his earnestness. With a demeanor that was lighter than the stereotypical sportsman, his public persona was deeply sincere. While there have been, unfortunately, numerous athletes whose nice-guy personas were revealed to be at least partially a public act, Wainwright has preserved his reputation.
The Georgia native, who won his 200th career Major League Baseball game in what became his final pitching appearance in a Cardinals uniform, has already parlayed his baseball knowledge and affability into a potential second career as a broadcaster, receiving positive reviews for his color commentary during the 2023 American League Division Series between the Houston Astros and Minnesota Twins, both for his analytical skills and for his general positivity about the sport of baseball. How Wainwright’s post-playing career will unfold is a bit of a mystery. However, the pet dog he received on the Busch Stadium field at his retirement ceremony suggests he does not intend to spend six consecutive months in a constant state of travel again, even though he could surely walk into a high-visibility commentary role immediately.
Wainwright has also expressed his desire to try his hand at what, on the surface, seems to be a completely different trade. While most discussion of Wainwright’s post-playing career revolved around broadcasting – a far more common route for ex-players as well as something Wainwright himself had already done on a national stage – his musical ambitions were never far from the forefront.
On Opening Day of the 2023 season, Wainwright, without prior announcement, gave a solid rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” to a home crowd of 47,649, and although the year would be a greatly disappointing one on the field for the Cardinals, Wainwright set the tone for his retirement tour immediately.
During the final series of the 2023 season, a three-game set against the Cincinnati Reds with the Cardinals already eliminated from postseason contention, Wainwright became the central attraction. On both the final Friday and Sunday of the regular season, the former Silver Slugger winner got the chance to bat. Because of the implementation of the designated hitter rule in the National League, Wainwright had not stepped to the plate since 2021, and he had always taken great pride in his offensive competence. But on that Saturday, perhaps most importantly to the Wainwright, he got to perform a post-game concert at Busch Stadium in front of the fans in St. Louis. Among the songs performed was "Time to Fly."
Wainwright is certainly not the first athlete to dabble into the world of music. Aside from the likes of Charley Pride, whose baseball resume was greatly overshadowed by his subsequent career as a country music and gospel singer, Hall of Fame-caliber athletes like Deion Sanders and Shaquille O’Neal have reached some level of popular success as musical performers. But a more apt comparison for Wainwright, spiritually though certainly not musically, would be another former Cardinals pitcher, Scott Radinsky, who has released seven albums as lead vocalist for the melodic hardcore punk band Pulley. Although Radinsky, a serviceable relief pitcher from 1990 through 2001, is still better known for his pitching than for his singing, his musical career is taken seriously. And perhaps the highest compliment that one could pay Wainwright’s music is that it is solid enough that critiquing it would not be cruel, but rather serious analysis of a serious artist.
While the time for evaluating the totality of his music is later, “Time to Fly” demonstrates potential, far exceeding the expectations of any fan of Wainwright's baseball career. It is the kind of song that would fit at home on pop-country radio – it would not surprise me in the least to hear “Time to Fly” in some rotation on 92.3 WIL or 93.7 The Bull, St. Louis’s major country radio stations, not the least of which is thanks to the song’s lyrical content.
Aside from some multi-tracked vocals, “Time to Fly” is a spare acoustic guitar-driven song, a tribute to Wainwright’s time in St. Louis. The vocals are shockingly full given the sparsity of the instrumentation. The double-metaphor of the song’s title, a longtime Cardinal on a metaphorical flight to his post-playing career life, isn’t exactly mysterious, but the lyrical content of the song is deeply earnest, and in that way, deeply Adam Wainwright. Fittingly, the genre of country music is built around turning personal experiences into universal themes.
Wainwright is a far more interesting person than those only familiar with the robust statistics of his baseball career may realize. Raised by a single mother in the Atlantic coastal town of Brunswick, Georgia, the high school two-sport star (he was a star football player, as well) was on his way to the prestigious Georgia Institute of Technology to play college baseball before his childhood favorite team, the Atlanta Braves, offered him a seven-figure signing bonus to join their minor league system. (His first-round high school-to-pros journey was arguably overshadowed the next year at Glynn Academy when his former classmate Kwame Brown became the first high schooler ever to be drafted No. 1 overall in the NBA Draft.)
The first 22 years of Wainwright’s life were deeply Georgian, but his first single reflects the life he created in the relative north, developing sensibilities neither inherently urban nor rural, neither northern nor southern, no matter what one may assume from his slight twang. These seeming contradictions are not by design, but rather byproducts of the basic biographical information that made Wainwright what he became – somebody who has experienced enough to fully grasp universal themes.
Just as a matter of probability, it is unlikely that Wainwright’s baseball career is simply an interesting footnote to his musical career, but dismissing him as a novelty act is missing the point. His professional success along multiple tracks, and his demonstrated ability to tap into a uniquely American experience, prove that Wainwright, to borrow from baseball parlance, is an intriguing prospect with upside. Those guys don’t always pan out, but dismissing them before they’ve gotten a chance to prove themselves can be a perilous decision.