ST. LOUIS – Arthur Rhodes(notes) shakes his head and allows a wry smile. Nearly 20 years of deprivation and all of a sudden he's showered in blessings. Less than a week shy of his 42nd birthday, the left-handed relief pitcher is in his first World Series, and he is guaranteed of getting a championship ring because he's played for both teams this season, becoming the eighth player in baseball history to do so.
Rhodes was with the Texas Rangers until they released him Aug. 8. It appeared his career might be over. It certainly seemed his best chance to reach a World Series had slipped away. But three days later the St. Louis Cardinals signed him. Lo and behold, the Cardinals were all but gifted the wild-card berth, got hot, stormed past the Phillies and Brewers, and here they are hosting Game 1 on Wednesday at Busch Stadium.
Another player might be reluctant to accept a championship ring from a team that unceremoniously cut him. But if the Rangers happen to beat the Cardinals, Rhodes has no doubt what he'd do.
"Yeah, you gotta take the ring, man," he said with a soft chuckle.
Hard to blame him. Go 20 years without a sniff at a World Series, and you'd take the ring, too.
Rhodes is regarded as a marvel and an oddity, and his current situation is bizarre. The Rangers are paying all but $100,000 of his $1.2 million salary for him to pitch against them. He's been a teammate of every player in the World Series. Rangers manager Ron Washington summoned him from the bullpen 32 times and Cardinals manager Tony La Russa has called on him 24 times, including five postseason appearances.
"This is sweet revenge for him," Oliver said. "We're going to try to beat him, but we'll stay friends off the field."
Rhodes says he isn't upset with the Rangers for releasing him. He knows all about the business of baseball. He's played for nine teams since breaking into the big leagues in 1991, the Rhodes most traveled. Only Mariano Rivera(notes) has made more appearances among active pitchers. One former teammate calls him Benjamin Button.
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"I was disappointed when the Rangers released me because I was happy with my role there and they are a good team," he said. "But you've got to keep your head up. I was really happy to sign with the Cardinals, and now, here we are."
The Cardinals' clubhouse and bullpen have benefited from Rhodes' age and experience, just not in the way one might imagine. He plays loud music, plays practical jokes and invites younger teammates out for dinner and drinks.
"We've livened up the bullpen," he said. "We just have fun. I was the same way with the Rangers and every team I've been on."
Rhodes, like so many ballplayers, is a perpetual adolescent. It's kept him productive. His most significant career accomplishments have come after his 40th birthday. In 2010, he tied a single-season record with 33 consecutive scoreless appearances and made his first All-Star team. Rhodes stays in top physical condition and still throws in the low 90s.
"It's very inspiring to see what he's been able to do for so long," Cardinals pitcher Kyle Lohse(notes) said. "He's been a big boost. He gets big outs for us and he's ramped up the energy in the clubhouse."
For all his mirth, Rhodes has also known heartache. The scoreless appearance record and his All-Star and World Series trips came after the biggest tragedy in his life, the death of his 5-year-old son, Jordan, in 2008 after an undisclosed illness. Rhodes writes "J.R." on the side of the mound every time he enters a game.
"I wish my little boy was here to see this, but he'll be right behind me on the mound," Rhodes said. "He loved baseball."
His wife and daughter will be at the World Series. They know what a long journey it's been. Rhodes was drafted by the Baltimore Orioles in 1988 and made his big league debut three years later as a starter. Not until he moved to the bullpen in 1996 did he begin to have success, and he settled in as a top reliever for the Orioles, then Mariners, then Athletics, then Indians, then Phillies, then back to the Mariners, then Marlins, then Reds.
He was on four teams that lost in the ALCS and one that lost in the NLDS. Now he's been on both teams that will face each other in the World Series. Catcher Bengie Molina had a similar situation last season, playing for the San Francisco Giants until being traded to the Rangers at midseason.
The Giants won the World Series, and Molina got his ring, even though he'd been on the losing side. Molina's brother, Yadier, is the Cardinals catcher. He said the ring is meaningful to Bengie because of all the time he put in with the Giants. Furthermore, Molina and Lonnie Smith are the only players who appeared in the World Series after playing for both teams during the regular season. Chris Ray, Jim Bruske, Sid Monge, Johnny Schmitz and Jack Kramer played for both teams during the season but didn't appear in the World Series.
Rhodes would like to exact that revenge, he'll do everything he can to ensure the Cardinals are the ones doing the celebrating, but he knows he's covered either way. After 20 years, he'll have a World Series ring.
"It's special, man," he said. "I worked my tail off for 20 years. Gotta love it."
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