It can happen in a hurry.
Growing up in Seattle, one of few stars I watched on the Mariners during the 1980s (when the team had a losing record every season) was a first baseman named Alvin Davis, the American League's rookie of the year in 1984. In 1989, Davis was second in the AL in OPS. He fell off some in 1990 and by 1991 he hit .221. In two seasons, he had gone from one of the best hitters in baseball to a guy who couldn't get around on a big league fastball. After a cameo with the Angels in 1992, he was finished, done at age 31.
AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi
Edmonds struggled to make contact in his 26 games with San Diego.
Jim Edmonds' fall was more traditional and predictable. He'll turn 38 years old in June. He's battled nagging injuries throughout his career. He's been in slow decline since his monster 2004 season, when he hit .301 with 42 home runs and helped the Cardinals reach the World Series. Last season, he was a below-average hitter for the first time since his rookie season (other than an injury-plagued 1999). The Padres gambled that he had something left in the tank, acquiring the four-time All-Star for a minor leaguer, but after hitting .178 with 24 strikeouts and only three extra-base hits in 90 at-bats, they decided Edmonds had met Father Time and released him over the weekend.
The Cubs are reportedly interested in signing Edmonds, to see if he has a last gasp remaining. I hope he does; the Cubs could use some punch in center field with Felix Pie disappointing and I've always enjoyed watching Edmonds, even if his trademark diving catches in center field did often appear a bit, umm, overdramatic.
Edmonds has been one of the most underrated players of his generation. While known for his eight Gold Gloves he was also a terrific hitter, reaching a .385 or better on-base percentage six straight seasons with St. Louis and hitting 30 or more homers five times (twice hitting 42).
Edmonds had been a very good player for the Angels from 1995 through 1998, hitting at least .290 with 25 home runs each season. But shoulder problems limited him to 55 games and a .250 average in 1999 and with Edmonds facing free agency after the 2000 season, the Cardinals acquired him in spring training for Kent Bottenfield and Adam Kennedy.
The Cardinals knew they were acquiring a talented player, albeit one whose effort had been questioned at times by teammates. "He can definitely play the game when he wants to," Angels pitcher Chuck Finley once said. "Jimmy's biggest problem is Jimmy." The Cardinals definitely didn't expect that Edmonds would begin one of the great stretches of play by any center fielder in major league history.
Check out this list of five-year peaks for some Hall of Fame center fielders, plus a few others. RC is runs created over that five-year span and RCAP is runs created above position (compared to an average center fielder for that time period, taken from Lee Sinins' baseball-encyclopedia.com).
HR RBI RUNS AVG OBP SLG RC RCAP Mickey Mantle, 1954-1958 192 522 630 .325 .451 .618 777 453 Ty Cobb, 1910-1914 29 425 511 .397 .462 .567 716 353 Joe DiMaggio, 1937-1941 169 691 603 .350 .420 .638 759 351 Hack Wilson, 1926-1930 177 708 586 .331 .419 .612 712 295 Willie Mays, 1961-1965 226 690 613 .308 .387 .606 682 287 JIM EDMONDS, 2000-2004 181 501 511 .298 .410 .593 614 279 Tris Speaker, 1912-1916 19 399 541 .359 .443 .504 665 276 Ken Griffey Jr., 1996-2000 249 685 593 .290 .382 .604 686 253 Duke Snider, 1953-1957 207 585 581 .311 .407 .618 693 245 Bernie Williams, 1996-2000 131 535 540 .324 .410 .551 604 235 Larry Doby, 1950-1954 138 503 484 .286 .399 .513 560 213 Dale Murphy, 1982-1986 174 524 545 .288 .376 .522 598 176 Earl Averill, 1930-1934 125 591 569 .320 .395 .546 668 163 Kirby Puckett, 1986-1990 77 481 481 .331 .370 .507 561 146 Cesar Cedeno, 1972-1976 104 400 466 .298 .365 .485 499 146 Andre Dawson, 1979-1983 121 439 468 .296 .341 .507 491 131 Richie Ashburn, 1951-55 11 245 497 .321 .407 .403 534 100 Andruw Jones, 2002-2006 192 558 479 .266 .352 .524 523 96Gold Gloves aren't listed, but Edmonds was voted one all five seasons. The Cardinals made the playoffs four of those five seasons. With Edmonds' combo of power, batting average, on-base ability and defense, I'm comfortable saying it was one of the 10 best five-year stretches any center fielder has put together.
Now, I am not suggesting lining up Edmonds against the likes of Mays, Griffey and Snider makes him a Hall of Famer. He got a late start to his career -- his first full season didn't come until he was 25 -- and his last good season came at 35, so his career totals will likely fall short of Cooperstown status.
But it was a heck of a run. In fact, the attitude toward Edmonds eventually shifted from the criticism he received earlier in his career to the image of a gamer who often played hurt. After he made a spectacular catch against the Mets in the 2006 National League Championship Series, crashing into the wall to haul down a long drive from Jose Reyes, Ian O'Connor wrote in USA Today how Edmonds was the last player left in the clubhouse after the game, "alone with his battered body, surrounded by vacant stalls and the ghostly images of Cardinals jerseys suspended in air. Everything must've hurt. His head. His wrist. His foot. His feelings."
Edmonds told O'Connor that "I've heard a lot of sarcastic comments about me diving too much. I've just had a lot of negativity in my career, and I really don't give a damn. As long as the guys on my team appreciate what I do, that's all that matters to me."
Edmonds was underappreciated, maybe not by Cardinals fans, but certainly by many others. For one thing, he was a clutch postseason performer (.277 BAA/.365 OBP/.523 SLG in 61 playoff games).
But he'll mostly be remembered for one of the great catches in baseball history.
Here's hoping he has a few more good ones left in him.