It's hard to say goodbye to a Jim-dandy CF
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
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We're going to miss the ballet in center field, the Jimnastics, the swan
dives for the baseball. We'll miss the way he'd jump to his feet to proudly
display the grass stains and the dirt that were smeared across his uniform.
We'll miss the theater, and his actor's sense of timing as he tracked that
elusive fly ball. The way he envisioned and marked the landing spot ahead
of time, knowing just how far he had to go, and arriving just in time to
deliver that extra suspense, that extra drama. All of the web gems, the web
Jims, he created.
And after crashing to the turf, or into a wall, he'd milk the moment by
immediately sinking to his knees, roll over and writhe in pain, going down
as if he had just been smacked on the forehead by a wrecking ball.
Miraculously, he would rise, and slowly trot back to the Cardinals' dugout,
taking a little extra time to let the applause wash over him and heal his
bruises, his psyche.
And then there was the swing: so fluid and sweet and so smooth that it did
not disturb the summer breeze.
And the mood swings were almost as fun.
It was all so very entertaining: his good-natured heckling of the unwashed
press corps; his self-deprecating style; his crabbiness on a hot day at the
ballpark after a short night, and the compelling psychodrama of a
relationship he had with his stern manager, Tony La Russa.
Jim Edmonds was the good boy, the bad boy.
Most of all, he was the boy of summer who would never grow old.
Sadly, Edmonds did wear down. After averaging 34 homers and 96 RBIs in his
first six seasons as a Cardinal, Edmonds' productivity the last two seasons
dropped to a rate of 14 homers and 55 RBIs.
After running down all of those line drives in the gaps, he couldn't outrun
his age. He'll be 38 next season, and hopes to kick-start his career back
home in SoCal.
Jimmy Baseball has gone away.
"The friendships will last forever," Edmonds said Saturday. "And I'll
always cherish those friendships. And I will never lose them."
The Cardinals agreed to his request for a trade, so Edmonds is off to join
the San Diego Padres. In return the Cardinals get David Freese, a strapping
third-base prospect who grew up in St. Louis, cheering for Edmonds, just
like most folks.
As he departs, how do we frame Edmonds' career?
If we consider the combination of offense and defense, Edmonds was the best
overall center fielder in Cardinals history.
That's no hype or phony, parting-gift praise.
Edmonds played eight seasons here. And among all hitters in franchise
history he ranks fourth in homers, 12th in RBIs, and sixth in combined on
base-slugging percentage. No other Cardinals center fielder comes close to
matching the wattage of that offensive production, and Edmonds won six Gold
Gloves in eight St. Louis summers.
Jimmy's flamboyant way of getting it done an crucial ways came through many
times, especially in the 2004 National League Championship Series against
Houston. There was the winning homer in Game 6, and the saving catch in
Game 7. The kind of stuff that gives you chills.
Edmonds was the all-around performer who gave us an extended thrill ride
after arriving unexpectedly from the Angels in the spring of 2000.
Edmonds played a leading role in transforming this franchise, fueling the
Cardinals' offense and defense with an abundance of natural talent.
The baseball gods gave Jimmy a gift, and he shared it with the Cardinals
and fans during an eight-season run that produced six trips to the
playoffs, two National League pennants and a World Series championship in
If getting Edmonds from Anaheim represented perhaps the best trade made
during Walt Jocketty's regime as general manager, the trade that sent
Edmonds to San Diego became the most awkward move of John Mozeliak's early
days as the new GM.
Let's not be confused by what this means:
The Cardinals are making it clear, even without stating it clearly, that
they're not going to be able to replenish their deteriorating talent base
at the major league level in a big way in 2008. The free-agent market is
lean. And with fast-track center field prospect Colby Rasmus deemed
untouchable, there are few tradable commodities.
That's just the reality. So they played ball with Edmonds, set him free,
and picked up a prospect who may help them down the path. Replacing
Edmonds' declining offensive numbers at the CF position shouldn't be
With NL Central rivals throwing money around and taking their best shot at
2008, the Cardinals are going to hold their fire in 2008 and try to be more
aggressive for 2009.
This approach is understandable considering the problematic makeup of the
current Cardinals roster, which has big money tied up in injured or
unproductive players. But fans don't want to hear it, and it's not as if
the team cut its high ticket prices for 2008. So Mozeliak and chairman Bill
DeWitt will stand accused of high baseball crimes and misdemeanors.
"From a fans' standpoint, I can see that they want us to challenge by
adding, growing and getting better," Mozeliak said. "That's our goal. But
how do you get there? You have part of your team on the disabled list,
certain contracts that are being unproductive, it's just not as easy it
seems. And I'd just ask for a little patience as we go through this. We do
have a plan, but I just don't know when we can actually pull the string on
it to make it all go forward."
The truthful answer: 2009.
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