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December 06, 2001

Mac a big boost for Edmonds
By Dan Patrick

As far back as the All-Star Game, the Cardinals' Jim Edmonds was wondering when he would be able to shake the reputation he brought with him from Anaheim to St. Louis.

Jim Edmonds
Manager Tony La Russa and Jim Edmonds celebrate St. Louis' sweep of the Braves. Edmonds was 8-for-14 with a record five doubles in the three games.

You've heard the story: selfish guy, showoff, won't play hurt. All in all, not a team guy. I don't know if Edmonds will ever completely shake this rap, even if it's undeserved as many claim. To me, though, Edmonds' All Star query should be answered by the fact that his team is in the playoffs. And he has fit in like he was born under the Arch.

Edmonds has done all you could ask of a player this year. Fernando Tatis was inconsistent. Ray Lankford had a down year. Mark McGwire was injured and missed the second half. Through it all, Edmonds was there with timely hitting and consistent excellence with the glove.

The bad rap may come from the fact that Edmonds is a California guy with blonde tints in his hair. A bit laid-back is a fair description of his approach to the game. A guy like that was almost doomed to fail, managed as he was by the super-intense Terry Collins.

New Angels skipper Mike Scioscia is a notch below Collins on the intensity meter, but it's fair to assume that Edmonds would still have had his critics in California. The move just acknowledged the obvious: time to move on for both player and team.

Edmonds' new manager, Tony La Russa, has managed all types -- from Rickey Henderson and Dennis Eckersley to Jose Canseco and Dave Stewart. LaRussa can accept quirky guys if they can get it together by game time. He and Edmonds have not clashed once.

Another key is that Edmonds was able to slip into town without the pressure of the Cardinals' being "his team." The town and the team belong to the red-haired first baseman. Edmonds would not be expected to carry the Cardinals. But when Big Mac went down, Edmonds had half a season under his belt and comfortably rose to the challenge.

It seems clear that Edmonds also figured out what McGwire has learned about St. Louis. It's a great baseball town, the best in the country. The fans want to cheer and support the team, not cheer during the good times and boo during the bad.

If the Cardinals meet the Yankees in the World Series, the Yanks will be facing a guy in Edmonds that many in the organization wanted to acquire.

Cardinals fans also come on the road in big numbers, much like Nebraska fans in college football. And, again, it's McGwire's town; Edmonds does not have to be the leader now. Edmonds took this all in and signed an extension during the season, a big and quick turnaround for a guy who spent most of last year on the trading block at his previous address.

In the end, the Angels got Adam Kennedy and Kent Bottenfield for Edmonds. Kennedy may be a serviceable second baseman, but Bottenfield probably had his career year with St. Louis last year. So it's not looking good for the Angels, while the Cardinals pretty much locked up a cornerstone guy for their team who is only 30.

If the Cardinals meet the Yankees in the World Series, the Yanks will be facing a guy in Edmonds that many in the organization wanted to acquire. Maybe Edmonds' rep held up the deal. Maybe the Angels wanted too much. But would Edmonds look good in pinstripes?

No maybe about it, especially as the Yankees look to rebuild their outfield and ended up trading most of the prospects the Angels wanted for Edmonds in the first place. Dave Justice was a great pickup for the Yankees, but Edmonds would have cost roughly the same and he is much younger.

Edmonds' All Star question may linger a while, though. Why did things go so badly in Anaheim? Why have they gone so well in St. Louis?

The true test may come in a few years. When McGwire retires, can Edmonds fill the void and be a big-time leader while still producing on the field? But it doesn't matter now. Having endured a messy divorce with Anaheim, Edmonds is still on his honeymoon in St. Louis.

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NL playoff analyst Chad Kreuter looks at the impact of Jim Edmonds.
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