Tuesday, February 3, 2009


I've never actually ranked the loves of my life, but I know that if I did Cardinals baseball would rank disturbingly high. It's not a question of whether or not I take it too seriously; It's a question of how long victory or defeat will fundamentally affect my baseline mood. Far too often, memories of Cardinals baseball are so viscerally seared into my memory that I can tell you ludicrous specifics about my surroundings during weighty Cardinals games. When I say I'm a Cardinals fan, I mean I've lived and fucking died with them.

For example, I can't tell you many specifics about the year 1996 -- think there may have been some sort of Presidential election -- but I can tell you that I watched the entire NLCS Game 7 -- a feat, I assure you -- in my parents' kitchen, and that I ate four bowls of Frosted Mini Wheats during the game. Two percent milk.

Or that I skipped school -- first time ever -- and watched Rick Ankiel's meltdown in the Game 1 of the 2000 NLDS at the bar of Houlihan's in the St. Louis Galleria -- malls are very big where I'm from -- while drinking three iced teas.

I also sense that my experience isn't particularly unique.

My street-cred established, I come to bid farewell to one of my favorite players, Jim Edmonds. He's the greatest center fielder I've ever watched on a daily basis, and he's the new benchmark for a center fielder who falls just short of the Hall of Fame.

If the payroll contraction inspired by the economic crisis causes star free agents to remain unsigned, Edmonds' career could very well be finished. Edmonds crushed the ball with the Cubs last year, and I think he can hit the 18 home runs he needs to reach 400. But time is a fast current and Edmonds has been swimming against it for a while now. Edmonds gets no play in the media. Take a look at a Google News search of Edmonds' name and you'll find a lot of older articles and terrible sources. (Not you, David Heck of the Tufts Daily.) Free agency is still at a point where a team can sign Manny Ramirez or Adam Dunn. Jim Edmonds isn't a hot commodity right now.

So if Edmonds is finished, I think it's the end of a career that was historically significant but not worthy of Hall enshrinement. According to the always handy Baseball-Reference Play Index, Edmonds ranks 12th in career OPS+ among players who played at least 500 games in center field. Ahead of him are the following 11 names:

1-8: Mickey Mantle, Ty Cobb, Tris Speaker, Willie Mays, Joe DiMaggio, Hack Wilson, Duke Snider, Ken Griffey Jr.

9-11: Wally Berger, Larry Doby, Earl Averill

Every single name on that list is a Hall of Famer, though some (the Earl of Shomish) are less significant than others (Seven). Edmonds stacks up well to the final three, though Doby is, of course, an exceptional case relative to Edmonds. Still, based on their stats, it's not unreasonable to say that those players have marginal Hall of Fame candidacies. Doby, of course, still being an exceptional case relative to, well, nearly everybody.

The problem is that there are also impressive names directly following Edmonds -- players who aren't Hall of Famers:

13-15: Fred Lynn*, Jimmy Wynn, Ellis Burks

All of those guys were fantastic players for a lot of years, but aside from Red Sox homers wanting to see their boy Fred get in, these guys don't have groundswells to get them elected to the Hall of Fame (And why doesn't Red Sox nation have more love for Ellis, who began and ended his career in Boston? Probably racism.)

So Jim Edmonds is stuck in the middle between a group of marginal Hall of Famers above and a group of talented non-Hall of Famers below. Then there's the fact that he played during an era of unprecedented chemical advantage, legal or otherwise. It's the unfortunate truth of this era and, all things considered, I'll take it over World War and institutional racism.

Jim Edmonds has authored as many Cardinals moments that are burned into my memory as anybody. Jim Edmonds is so great, he's beloved by both Cardinals and Cubs fans (admit it, you were smitten last June). I will one day prattle to the idiot friends of my children's children about the catch I saw Jim Edmonds make in second inning of Game 7 of the 2004 NLCS on a ball that Brad Ausmus hit that I don't think Jim even thought he could reach. But Jim Edmonds falls short of the marginal Hall of Famers.

Jim Edmonds is not worthy of Hall of Fame enshrinement.

* Stylistically, Jim Edmonds is the Fred Lynn of this generation. You heard it here first.

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