(BaseballStL) — Everybody has a favorite Jim Edmonds moment: the layout catches, the iconic home runs, the shrewd base running. But what was Edmonds’ favorite moment?
Simple - Every day he was a Cardinal.
“Opening day 2000 until today has been the best day and it just keeps on going,” Edmonds said Saturday following the Cardinal Hall of Fame induction ceremony.
“It blows me away every time. (The fans) are just so respectful to the players and past players. It just makes you feel good and it’s pretty special.
“My fiancée asked me ‘has it always been like this?’ and I go, ‘I think I’m getting more popular as time goes on.’ I get better as people forget. It’s like when you pass away and you’re all of a sudden a great war hero. So I’m getting better with time.”
Self-deprecation aside, Edmonds was plenty good. During his career, he won eight Gold Gloves, played in four All-star games, won a Silver Slugger award, a World Series and finished his career with a .284 batting average and 393 home runs, an enviable body of work. His best years were in St. Louis.
Cardinal manager Mike Matheny, a teammate from 2000-2004, got to watch Edmonds through entire 162-game seasons, both on and off the field. “There were a lot of times [he] walked off the field and I told him, ‘you’re the best baseball player I’ve ever seen.’ Just watching day in, day out the little things he did. How much pride he took in center field,” Matheny said.
Edmonds said he realized early in his career that while he might not hit in every game, he could play defense in every game and so he made defense his specialty.
“I struggled my rookie year (in Anaheim), but the first year they gave me the job in center field was my second year and they basically said, ‘the center field job is yours. Go out there and have a good time with it.’
“I struggled in the beginning of the year, I think I was hitting .235. Marcel Lachemann came up to me and said, ‘keep doing what you’re doing on defense and I’m never going to take you out of the lineup.’ That kind of turned on a light switch. I just got prepared more and more each day and learned.
“It’s pretty simple actually if you watch this game long enough. If you watch Sportscenter enough you see the same guys doing the same thing every night. They hit the same pitches; they strike out on the same pitches. So I just took that to another level. I watched more, I asked more questions. I just wanted to be prepared,” he said.
Matheny said Edmonds’ defense was a nightly clinic in positioning and winning baseball.
“Everybody remembers all the crazy catches over the shoulder,” the Cards skipper said. “But I’ve never seen a center fielder with that kind of approach. Every pitch trying to figure out a way to help the corner outfielder cheat a little bit. Coming in, going back, watching and trying to figure out sequences. For an offensive player - and he was a great offensive player - you just don’t normally see them that committed to the defensive side of the game.
“He changed games for us. There were days he showed up - I’ve never seen this either - he would show up and he’d say, ‘I think I’m going to hit two today boys.’ He’d at least get one. It was impressive.”
Edmonds played in San Diego, Chicago, Milwaukee and Cincinnati after he left the Redbirds, but he has never considered himself anything other than a Cardinal.
“It’s an amazing feeling to be four years out of the league and walk into the front of the locker room and have the man just open the door for you. To go and say hello to the guys and just be involved. It’s an amazing accomplishment to get to this level and be able to stay. To still be a part of it is fun.”
Edmonds still appreciates how very well the Cardinal organization takes care of its players.
“You could just tell the ownership and the manager at the time cared about you as a player. They cared about your families. They allowed families on the flights, they allowed family trips. They allowed all the things that made this game a lot easier. I just knew it was special right away. The first month I was playing and my agent was like, ‘what do you think?’ I was like, ‘I’m done, I’m here. Sign me up.’
Saturday, Edmonds joined a very select group of former Cardinals who personify one of the most successful franchises in baseball history, a fact not lost on Edmonds.
“When they told me I was getting a red jacket I had to step back a little bit. I think this red jacket symbolizes more than just a plaque on the wall,” he said. “It’s going to take awhile to sink in.”