The signs of the impending apocalypse seem to grow more numerous every day. A black man with an African name will likely be the next President; there’s a pregnant dude (he is actually pregnant, I swear); and that’s just the real world. There are plenty of omens in baseball as well: the Rays are in first place while the Yankees are in last. And now this.
Jim Edmonds, arguably the most beloved St. Louis Cardinal of the decade and surely the greatest center fielder in franchise history, is now sporting Cubbie blue.
As a baseball decision: Anywhere from no net gain to very poor. Obviously, the Cubs are spending chump change on Jimmy, who will live comfortably off of the contract that the Padres released him from and which Walt Jocketty stupidly made in the afterglow of the 2006 World Series. It’s a low-risk signing, which is almost always good. But I don’t know that there is a high reward here. Most scouts who saw him with the Padres were looking for where to stick the fork – as in, he’s totally done. A few thought he was improving right before his release. None of his numbers or advanced stats were satisfactory. His presence also creates an opportunity cost, as he is effectively blocking Felix Pie, a stud-prospect with loads of upside, from contributing to the big club (though that probably wouldn’t be happening anyway with Piniella’s infuriating insistence on putting Reed Johnson out there every other day).
However, Edmonds’ numbers (offense and defense both) may have been depressed by playing in the Grand Canyon. I mean, Petco Park. Wrigley, with its snug outfield dimensions, crazy winds, and drunken, middle-aged Pollacks reaching over the fence for every flyball, could help Edmonds’ performance if he does have something left in the tank. The Cubs are the likeliest team from the Central to make the playoffs, so if Jimmy hangs around, sportswriters will hail the signing for bringing veteran experience to a weird, patchwork team. But we’ll burn that bridge when we come to it.
As an ethical dilemma: I won’t address the issues Cubs fans will have with this signing, but I’m sure there are Cards fans out there who think that this makes Edmonds dead to us. To that I say a hearty, “Screw you.” It’s his prerogative to seek gainful employment from whoever offers it to him. I’ve said it before: players today just don’t care about these deep-seated rivalries between teams. Unless there’s a personal beef between individual players or managers, Cubs-Cards and Yankees-Red Sox is just meaningless hoopla for the media and fans to have fun. It is fun, and sometimes people get hurt, but it doesn’t affect the players.
Jerry Seinfeld has a well-known bit about how sports is just “rooting for laundry:” personnel changes don’t matter because we identify with the uniform more than anything. When Edmonds was traded to San Diego, I remember thinking that the laundry wouldn’t matter for this guy. Of course, Edmonds-as-Cub causes more cognitive dissonance than Edmonds-as-Padre, but I will have no problem rooting for him until he finally hangs it up for good.
I, like many other Cardinals fans, identified #15 as the heart of the team in the generally very successful years from 2000-2006. He was never the single best player on the team – but that was mostly because he played with Mark McGwire for two years and Albert Pujols for six.
2004 was the year of the MV3, but it was a defining season for Edmonds. Pujols just had a normal year (like Hank Aaron had normal years) while Rolen tore up the league and got MVP buzz in the first half before a slow, achy finish (have fun with that, Toronto!). Edmonds’ performance before the All-Star break was in line with his career averages. Then in July: .381/.475/.952 with 13 home runs. August: .359/.519/.795 with 10 more dingers.
After winning 105 games in the regular season, Edmonds made two iconic plays in the span of 24 hours during the NLCS. In Game Six, he hit a triumphant, no-doubt home run to win the game in the bottom of the twelfth.
In the second inning of Game Seven, with two men on and one out, Edmonds made a spectacular catch to preserve for the Cardinals a dubious matchup of Jeff Suppan versus Roger Clemens.
Watch the video of the catch on that page. Notice he was shaded to shallow right center and made that catch in deep left center. He emerged with a freaking divot in his belt buckle. I would love to see Andruw Jones try to make that catch on that play.
This is just the pinnacle of the impact Jim Edmonds had in St. Louis, of the memories he has made for me and so many others. That’s something no change of laundry can ever erase.