The 100 Greatest Cardinals: 11-20
NOTE: The BND has endeavored to identify an objective list of the top 100 St. Louis Cardinals players of all time, based on statistical formulas developed through sabermetrics. We’ll count down the list daily, player by player, until April 4, the day of the Cardinals’ 2019 home opener. The running list and player bios can be found at bnd.com.
NO. 11: JIM EDMONDS
Jim Edmonds was laid back, even by southern California standards.
But to some coaches and teammates with the Anaheim Angels, he just looked lackadaisical, unfocused and indifferent to team success.
The chorus of criticisms snowballed on the reputation Edmonds had carried since he was a high-school standout in Diamond Bar, California, just 15 miles from Angels Stadium. One early scouting report even referred to him as “an indulged child.”
His hitting coach in Anaheim, seven-time American League batting champion Rod Carew, said Edmonds’ crime was that he made the game look too easy. He nonetheless counseled the young outfielder on clubhouse culture and how harmful the wrong perceptions can be.
And some of those complaints, he added, were not entirely unfounded. Edmonds was known to preen when belting — then watching — his home runs. When he’d make one of his frequent circus catches in center field, he’d hoist his glove skyward in self-congratulatory triumph.
Opponents believed Edmonds was showing them up. Teammates thought he cared more about seeing himself on Sports Center than he did about winning. Media portrayed him as a “hotdog” and an instigator. As columnist Tom Friend of the New York Times put it, “Edmonds is a beanball incident waiting to happen.”
Edmonds more than respected Carew, he’d idolized him growing up an Angels fan and, to this day, refers to him as “Dad.”
“I even asked him to show me how to tie my necktie,” he would say.
So Edmonds did his best to heed the words of his Hall-of-Fame hero and tone down the antics. But the reputation proved hard to shake, even after six seasons, an All-Star appearance and two Gold Gloves.
The Cardinals, meanwhile, had shown interest in Edmonds as batting-order protection for Mark McGwire and as a replacement in center field for Ray Lankford, who was slowed by a balky knee. They offered up 31-year-old right-hander Kent Bottenfield, who had won all of 17 games over six seasons before surprising the Cardinals with 18 victories in 1999. The Angels wanted rookie second-baseman Adam Kennedy, too, a request Redbirds General Manager Walt Jocketty happily obliged.
In its March 24, 2000, edition, the Los Angeles Times gave Edmonds a shove on the way out, portraying the deal as a merciful end to “a six-year Angel career marked by spectacular defensive plays, unfulfilled promise and never-ending trade rumors. …”
Edmonds sobbed upon hearing the news, due in equal parts to a disappointing departure from his boyhood team and the promise of a fresh start with a new team. Privately, Cardinals manager Tony La Russa promised his new center fielder a clean slate, even as his new teammates checked with their friends throughout baseball on the veracity of what they had heard.
“I don’t know Jim much,” Lankford concluded in an interview with Sports Illustrated,” but I’ll tell you this: If he’s the player everyone says he is, and he hustles and works his butt off, nobody will care what they said about him in Anaheim. … This is a new day. Jim’s a Cardinal.”
It wasn’t long before the rest of the Cardinals clubhouse was glad he was.
Two years removed from his record-breaking 70 home run season, injuries limited McGwire to 89 games (though he still hit 32 home runs). But like so many other castoff players — particularly during the La Russa years — Edmonds found renewal in baseball-crazy St. Louis.
He batted .295/.411/.583 with 42 home runs, 108 RBIs, 129 runs scored. The Cardinals, who finished 75-86 the year before, surged to 95 wins and a first-place finish. In his first taste of postseason play — which was ended by the New York Mets in the National League Championship Series — Edmonds went 13 for 36 (.361) with five doubles, three home runs and 12 RBIs.
He ended up fourth in balloting for the National League MVP and, moreover, established himself as part of a new core that would sustain the Cardinals through postseason appearances in six of the next seven seasons. By 2004, it had included the rest of the “MV3” in Albert Pujols and third baseman Scott Rolen.
The Cardinals challenged their own rich history with 105 wins, second only to their 1942 edition in the franchise record book. For his part, Edmonds added a .301/.418/.643 batting line to career highs in home runs (42), RBIs (111), OPS (1.061), and WAR (7.2). The wall-crashing, belly-flopping defense and fist-pumping theatrics that made him a hotdog in Los Angeles met with the drama of autumn baseball to make him a playoff hero in St. Louis.
After defeating the Dodgers in the divisional series, the Cardinals faced off with Houston for the National League championship. The Astros, who reached the postseason as a 92-win wildcard, took the series lead with Jeff Kent Game 5 three-run, walk-off home run off Cardinals’ closer Jason Isringhausen.
Back in St. Louis at Busch Stadium II, Houston’s Jeff Bagwell spoiled a 4-3 Cardinals lead with a game-tying single off Isringhausen with two out in the ninth. Edmonds, facing Astros reliever DanMiceli with one out and one on in the ninth, sent the series to a decisive seventh game with a two-run walk-off homer of his own.
The Astros took an early lead off Cardinals starter Jeff Suppan with a run in the first. In the second, Suppan walked Kent and allowed a single to Jose Vizcaino to put two on with one out for Brad Ausmus. The Houston catcher hit a hard line drive toward the wall in center field. Edmonds, who was playing shallow in anticipation of a play at the plate, tracked the ball as it tailed to the gap in left-center, laid himself out in front of the warning track, and made an amazing basket catch to save two runs.
The Cardinals won it in the eighth on Rolen’s solo home run.
The disappointment of a four-game sweep at the hands of the red-hot Boston Red Sox cut the Cardinals deep, as did their premature exit from the NLCS the following season, the last for Busch II.
By 2006, Edmonds was 36 years old and feeling the wear of the sundry injuries he sustained in his once criticized outfield acrobatics. In 110 games, his average fell to .257 with 19 home runs and 7o RBIs. The rest of the Redbirds limped, too, falling to 83 wins and depending on an Atlanta win over Houston on the last day of the regular season to reach the playoffs.
But both rallied to a final hurrah. Edmonds belted two home runs in a thrilling seven-game NLCS against the Mets, then drove home four in a five-game World Series win over the Detroit Tigers.
He lasted a final, injury-ridden season with the Cardinals and, after stints in Chicago, San Diego, Milwaukee and Cincinnati, retired in 2010. Over his best 11 seasons, including his eight with the Cardinals, only five position players in baseball had higher WAR than Edmonds.
SEASONS IN ST. LOUIS: 2000-2007
.285/.393/.555 in St. Louis | 8 Gold Gloves | 4x All-Star | WS ring | 37.9 WAR | Cardinals HoF’14
TOP 100 SCORE: 5.04