Jason Isringhausen

Why Jason Isringhausen turned down more money to sign with the Cardinals

As a native of Brighton, Illinois, Jason Isringhausen was well aware of the Cardinals’ storied history when he was considering his options as a free agent following the 2001 season.

Playing upon that knowledge – and Isringhausen’s respect for the stars who came before him – St. Louis manager Tony La Russa made it a point to mention that if Isringhausen signed with the Cardinals, he would have regular access to former greats such as Stan Musial, Red Schoendienst, Lou Brock, and Bob Gibson.

“I told him routinely at Busch Stadium in the office, Stan and Red and Lou and Bob are sitting there,” La Russa said, “and he says, ‘You’re talking about Gibson and Brock and Musial, they’re sitting in the clubhouse? And I’m sitting there too?’ I said, ‘Only if you’re not a visiting player,’ and he said, ‘I’ll sign.’”[1]

On December 10, 2001, Isringhausen signed a four-year, $27 million contract that included a team option for a fifth year.[2]




“We had a very exciting ballclub last year and there’s a couple things we wanted to do this offseason to improve,” Cardinals general manager Walt Jocketty said. “This is the first step in doing so. This certainly upgrades our starting rotation with Jason pitching at the end of the game, and I think it upgrades our entire pitching staff.”[3]

The Cardinals’ roster seemed to agree, as Andy Benes, Alan Benes, Mike Matheny, and Jim Edmonds each appeared at Isringhausen’s introductory press conference to welcome the newest Redbird.

“You have a family off the field and you have a family on the field,” Alan Benes said. “We wanted to show up and show support for Jason and his wife, for Mr. Jocketty and Mr. DeWitt. All the guys are the team are going to be grateful for what they do to make us a better ballclub.”[4]

Isringhausen chose St. Louis over a four-year, $30 million offer from the Texas Rangers.




“I felt like this was the most comfortable fit, the right place to be,” Isringhausen said. “I felt like this was where I had the chance to make the most impact.”[5]

The decision also pleased Isringhausen’s family. His parents and his grandmother lived in the Brighton-Godfrey area and his wife was an Elsah native.

“My grandmother always wanted me to play for the Cardinals, so I thought I’d (grant) her wish,” Isringhausen said. “There’s a lot of tradition here. You grew up watching the Ozzie Smith home run and the way they played the game, Vince Coleman getting run over by the tarp …”[6]

Cardinals chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. said, “In the last couple of years, we have made an effort to sign targeted free agents and it seems that we have come up a little bit short, mainly because the player in question took the highest bid. Jason made it clear that while there was a certain threshold of compensation that was important to him, it was dependent on a lot of other factors.”[7]




Coming out of Lewis & Clark Community College in Godfrey, Illinois, Isringhausen was a 44th-round draft pick of the Mets in 1991, and as a draft-and-follow prospect, he didn’t sign until May 1992. After playing the outfield at Lewis & Clark, the Mets put him on the mound, where he enjoyed rapid success. In 1994, he was promoted to Double-A Binghamton, where he posted a 3.02 ERA over 92 1/3 innings. Alongside fellow Mets prospects Bill Pulsipher and Paul Wilson, he was dubbed a part of “Generation K,” and the excitement only built when he went 9-2 with a 2.81 ERA in 14 starts during his rookie campaign in 1995.

After finishing fourth in the Rookie of the Year voting, however, Isringhausen struggled in 1996, going 6-14 with a 4.77 ERA over 171 2/3 innings.

“As a 22-year-old rookie in New York City, you kind of think this game is easy,” Isringhausen said. “It didn’t quite work out that way. I got my rear end handed to me the next year. You live and learn. You don’t take it for granted anymore.”[8]

If anything, matters only grew worse for Isringhausen, as he appeared in just six major league games over the next two seasons. In September 1996, he had arthroscopic surgery on his right elbow and shoulder. Following a disappointing minor-league rehab start in 1997, he broke his right hand punching a trash can. A month later, he was diagnosed with tuberculosis, and at the end of the season, he underwent his second elbow surgery. This time, the surgery would keep him out the entire 1998 season.




“It seemed like I had a pretty black cloud over my head,” Isringhausen said. “There were times when I thought about quitting. It seemed like everything was happening at once and those two or three years were kind of blurred. But my daddy never raised a quitter. He wouldn’t have been too proud of me if I’d have just given up and come home.”[9]

After years of disappointments, Isringhausen’s elbow surgery proved to be even more successful than he had hoped.

“I throw harder than I did before the surgery,” Isringhausen said. “I topped out at 92, 93 then, and last year I hit 100.”[10]

At the 1999 trade deadline, the Mets traded Isringhausen and relief pitcher Greg McMichael to the A’s for reliever Billy Taylor. In Oakland, Isringhausen was converted to a full-time reliever, where he saved eight games for the A’s down the stretch. The following season, he made the all-star team on his way to 33 saves.




In 2001, Isringhausen was even better, posting a 2.65 ERA over 71 1/3 innings. He finished the year with 34 saves even though he learned late in the season that he had been tipping his pitches.

“Getting my grip in my glove, I was coming down just a split second longer on different pitches,” Isringhausen said. “We found out some teams had known it for the last two years. You kick yourself to death trying to figure out, ‘Why is everyone doing this to me?’ … It was something so simple and it took me forever to figure it out. I was able to get them out when they knew what was coming, and when they didn’t know what was coming, it was even better.”[11]

After making the adjustment, Isringhausen converted his final nine save opportunities.

“Jason Isringhausen was the No. 1 guy on our list,” Jocketty said.[12]




“He has a real dynamic arm, dynamic stuff,” La Russa said. “He’s at the right age, with the right arm, the right experience, the right attitude. I had a conversation with Jason Giambi about him. He was very high on Izzy.”[13]

For a Cardinals team that had won 93 games the previous season and finished second in the National League Central, Isringhausen’s signing was greeted positively. Dave Veres led the Cardinals with 15 saves in 2001, while Steve Kline was second on the team with nine.

“Isringhausen, 29, is entering his third year in late relief, a year in which he can be expected to blossom into elite status,” Dan O’Neill wrote in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “In St. Louis, Matt Morris, Darryl Kile, Woody Williams, Bud Smith, and, perhaps, Rick Ankiel will help him get there. In St. Louis, save opportunities promise to pile up like toys for tots. In St. Louis, he can do more than help. He can make the difference.”[14]

In The Sporting News, Ken Rosenthal was equally positive.




“By signing Jason Isringhausen, the Cardinals took a major step toward becoming the team to beat in the National League,” he wrote. “Four years and $27 million are excessive for Isringhausen, who tied for the major league lead last season with nine blown saves. But the Cardinals’ entire bullpen will improve now that the ninth inning belongs to Izzy.”[15]

However, Rosenthal’s article did quote a National League general manager who said, “He’s no sure thing. I’m not quaking in terror. It’s an upgrade, but it’s probably going from a C+ to a B.”[16]

In seven seasons with the Cardinals, Isringhausen proved to be better than that. In 2004, he helped St. Louis win the National League pennant as he went 4-2 with a 2.87 ERA and led the league with 47 saves.

In each of his first six seasons with the Cardinals, he saved at least 22 games and in five of those seasons he saved at least 32. When he signed as a free agent with the Tampa Bay Rays in 2009, he left as the franchise’s career saves leader with 217, easily surpassing Lee Smith (160), Todd Worrell (129), and Bruce Sutter (127). In his seven seasons in St. Louis, Isringhausen posted a 2.98 ERA.

In 2011, Isringhausen earned the 300th and final save of his career as a member of the Mets. He played his final season with the Angels in 2012 and was inducted into the Cardinals Hall of Fame in 2019.





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[1] Joe Ostermeier, “Isringhausen signs 4-year deal,” Belleville News-Democrat, December 11, 2001.

[2] Rick Hummel, “Isringhausen pleases family by joining Cards,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 11, 2001.

[3] Joe Ostermeier, “Isringhausen signs 4-year deal,” Belleville News-Democrat, December 11, 2001.

[4] Dan O’Neill, “Isringhausen could make more dreams come true on Cards,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 12, 2001.

[5] Dan O’Neill, “Isringhausen could make more dreams come true on Cards,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 12, 2001.

[6] Rick Hummel, “Isringhausen pleases family by joining Cards,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 11, 2001.

[7] Rick Hummel, “Isringhausen pleases family by joining Cards,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 11, 2001.

[8] Rick Hummel, “Isringhausen pleases family by joining Cards,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 11, 2001.

[9] Rick Hummel, “Isringhausen pleases family by joining Cards,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 11, 2001.

[10] Joe Ostermeier, “Isringhausen signs 4-year deal,” Belleville News-Democrat, December 11, 2001.

[11] Joe Ostermeier, “Isringhausen signs 4-year deal,” Belleville News-Democrat, December 11, 2001.

[12] Rick Hummel, “Isringhausen pleases family by joining Cards,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 11, 2001.

[13] Ken Rosenthal (The Sporting News), “Isringhausen improves Cards’ bullpen, but by how much?” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 13, 2001.

[14] Dan O’Neill, “Isringhausen could make more dreams come true on Cards,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 12, 2001.

[15] Ken Rosenthal (The Sporting News), “Isringhausen improves Cards’ bullpen, but by how much?” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 13, 2001.

[16] Ken Rosenthal (The Sporting News), “Isringhausen improves Cards’ bullpen, but by how much?” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 13, 2001.

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