I was thinking the other day about a post I did last year about Colby Rasmus and JD Drew. (We randomly still get hits on the site from google using search terms such as “Colby Rasmus Tony LaRussa feud.” Those are my favorite!) With the Nationals currently in town and Rick Ankiel currently roaming the grass of Busch Stadium, I find myself pondering the centerfield position again. Now, I planned on doing this piece for today over the weekend, having absolutely no idea that the Nationals and Rick Ankiel were about to swing in to town. Now, after Ankiel took out a half-page ad in yesterday’s St. Louis Post-Dispatch, I feel slightly clairvoyant, and a little less original in my deciding to talk about centerfielders.
So I’ve been thinking over the past few centerfielders that the Cardinals have had. We’ve had Hollywood. We’ve had the Comeback Kid. Now we have… umm… Colby.
I have very fond memories of the man they call Hollywood in Jim Edmonds. He made ridiculous catches, flying over the wall, diving across the grass, and making jaws drop with his latest Sportscenter highlight. People were in awe of his flashy plays. His shelf is full of Gold Gloves, and his reckless abandon with how he played the game will not be forgotten for a long time throughout Cardinal Nation.
On the offensive side of the ball, Edmonds was a strong presence, hitting in a crucial part of the order, either behind Mark McGwire or behind Albert Pujols. He could hit home runs, work a walk, and strike out like nobody’s business. He was also a clubhouse guy – a cheerleader even. I will never forget the pure joy in his face back in 2004 when he hit the home run to extend NLCS on to game 7. It was a perfect baseball moment. Jimmy brought the joy.
When Edmonds left the Cardinals for the greener pastures of Wrigley Field, Miller Park and finally Great American Ballpark (still can’t believe he did all those things), he was replaced by a pitcher. Okay, a former pitcher. Okay, it was Rick the Stick.
Rick Ankiel was a pitcher, who had a historic collapse in his first postseason appearance in 2000, where he set actual records for wild pitches thrown in a postseason game. He kind of vanished from baseball, and was ready to quit altogether, when he decided to become an outfielder. He battled his way back up through the minors and made an incredible burst back into the majors in 2007, where he hit .285/.328/.535 with 11 home runs over the final third of the season. He was the Comeback Kid in every way.
Ankiel was not the defensive prowess that Edmonds was. He made the plays, yes, but by all appearances he did not have the range of an Edmonds. Fox Sports Midwest still loves showing the clips from when he threw out two Rockies baserunners in a game, and we knew he had a cannon of an arm, but there was a difference in his style from the flair that Edmonds had. He had a reckless abandon, something that became abundantly clear when he crashed headfirst into the walls of Busch about two years ago (yes, the video is included in that link, and no, I can’t watch it again).
Something Ank wasn’t, however, was a media darling. He was adored by fans, but he was a media pariah. When he left the team at the end of 2009, he deked the scribes waiting for closing statements while the players were cleaning out their stuff and snuck out without saying anything. He wasn’t a big clubhouse guy. He got along with teammates, but wasn’t a leader. The fact that he put out that half page ad in the P-D completely shocked me (and probably most of Cardinal Nation). It was a classy move from the Comeback Kid.
When Ankiel left, it was for greener pastures, and by pastures I mean dollar bills. No matter, people were ready for the next big thing. Colby Rasmus had been the heir apparent centerfielder ever since he was drafted in the first round of the 2005 amateur draft. Minor league fans were begging to see him at Busch, and major league fans weren’t always sure what all the fuss was about, but they liked having someone to fuss about.
Then Colby made it. He played solid. He kept his head down. He was… blah. We have a blah centerfielder. Don’t get me wrong – he’s good. He’s really good. He’s very quietly leading the team in several offensive categories. While he was at first too anxious at the plate, he is patient now, leading the team with 9 walks. He’s focused on getting on base, putting the ball in play, and getting into a good position to scamper across home plate. He has the most at-bats, hits, and total bases on the team, a welcome relief for the prospect geeks that screamed into the ethers of the internets for Tony to use Colby more consistently. Yet… he’s blah.
He’s not the face of the team. He truly doesn’t want to be. He looks scared to death with a microphone in front of his face and most of his quotes sound like a combination between a surfer and a hick. Don’t get me wrong – I’m becoming a bigger Colby fan by the minute right now, but gosh, this kid is just flat out boring!
I’m absolutely pulling for him though. He can hide from the media all he wants, and hang out in the shadows. He can be one of the most underrated players on the team. It’s what he wants. Cardinal Nation just doesn’t know what to do with him.