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February 20, 2011

Wezen-Ball

Jim Edmonds' Final Trot

by Larry Granillo

"It was in the books while it was still in the sky. Brandt ran back to the deepest corner of the outfield grass; the ball descended beyond his reach and struck in the crotch where the bullpen met the wall, bounced chunkily, and, as far as I could see, vanished."
-- John Updike

On September 21, 2010, Jim Edmonds stepped into the box with one out in the top of the second inning to face Milwaukee's Dave Bush at Miller Park. Edmonds was getting the start at first base to spell Joey Votto, who was resting with a sinus infection. On the 2-1 pitch, Bush tried to sneak an 82-mile-per-hour slider over the inner half of the plate. Edmonds saw it all the way, though, and, with one swing of the bat, deposited the ball over the right-centerfield fence and into Cincinnati's bullpen. The scene, as it happened, was a familiar one: Bush cursed at himself for throwing such a bad pitch, the Miller Park crowd mixed their boos and cheers for a player who had been on their side a mere six weeks ago, and Edmonds circled the bases like he had ten other times that year and 392 other times in his career.

But something different happened on this home run trot. As Edmonds approached third base, he shuffled his feet. Big leaguers train themselves to touch each base during a home run trot in the same way every time, usually with the left foot on the inner-corner of the bag. If they find themselves approaching a base out-of-step, they'll slow their trot down or shuffle their feet so that, by the time they get to the bag, the correct foot hits the correct part of the base (believe me, when you watch almost 5,000 home runs over a summer like I did last season, you notice these things). It's one of the main reasons someone like David Ortiz has such a slow trot every time.

Well, when Edmonds shuffled his feet as he approached third base on this Tuesday night, he felt something go wrong. Anyone watching him as he rounded the base could see that something had happened - he was favoring his right foot. He tried pushing through the pain for the final ninety feet, but was forced to slow down and gingerly touch home plate as he came around to score.

He did not come out to the field in the bottom of the inning. In post-game questions, Edmonds admitted that "something popped when I was running around the bases" and "it felt like [the Achilles] tore." Ryan Braun, trying to make light of his former teammate's situation, said "I think he was just waiting for an opportunity to hit a home run and call it a career."

Braun added that he expected Edmonds would be back for the playoffs. It turns out, though, that Braun's initial diagnosis, spoken in jest or not, was closer to true. Edmonds never made it back into the Reds lineup that September and his injury kept him off the playoff roster. He signed a minor league contract with the Cardinals this winter in the hopes of cracking the big league roster, but that didn't get far. On Friday, Jim Edmonds, eight-time Gold Glove-winner and four-time All-Star, announced his retirement.

His final big league at-bat will, always and forever, be that second-inning home run off of Dave Bush. He joins the likes of Mickey Cochrane, Ted Williams, Albert Belle,and Todd Zeile as players who hit a home run in their final career at-bat. If this list on Wikipedia is to be believed, Jim Edmonds is the 43rd player (40th since 1901) to end his career with a big swat, and the first in six years (when Ray Lankford and Todd Zeile did it on the same day). With his 393 career home runs, Edmonds is second only to Ted Williams in career home runs among this select group.

It would seem that ending a career with a home run would be the ultimate act, the best possible bow. There is little more that you can do as a batter than crack a home run, and doing so in your final career at-bat would be going out on top. Heck, when Ted Williams did it in 1960, it inspired John Updike to pen the single greatest piece of baseball writing ever done in "Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu".

But not all grand finales are so grand. Jim Edmonds had a very good season in 2010 as a 40-year-old playing part-time, and there is no doubt that he felt he could contribute to Cincinnati's first visit to the playoffs in fifteen years. He had only just returned from the disabled list four days before, and this was already his second home run in a mere eight at-bats. To have it end his career a mere 265-feet into his trot can only be seen as sad, if not tragic.

There will be no epic New Yorker pieces written about Jim Edmonds by multiple Pulitzer Prize winning writers and even a trip to Cooperstown is in doubt the way Hall of Fame voters have been acting. But Jim Edmonds was an excellent baseball player at a very tough position. His fans around the country (and in St. Louis and Anaheim especially) will remember him fondly for years to come, no matter how is career ended.

Related Content:  Trot Times,  Home Run Trot,  Jim Edmonds

9 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

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RaysProf

Be he at bat or in the field, Jim Edmonds was the only reason I ever purchased an Angels ticket. In my book, Jim Edmonds made "the catch".

Feb 20, 2011 20:57 PM
rating: 0
 
Patrick M

Prepare a spot for Edmonds (maybe put his plaque next to Harold Baines's) in the Hall of Terrific Careers But Not Quite Hall-of-Fame Caliber.

Edmonds is better than a few Hall of Famers, of course, but the HoF standard should not be based on the mistakes. He was a terrific ballplayer, and it was a joy to watch him play.

Feb 21, 2011 06:13 AM
rating: 0
 
BillJohnson

The Baines analogy is quite illuminating, in that it reveals both the highs and lows of Edmonds' record. Jed didn't get nearly as many hits as Baines, despite a fairly long career, but he did everything else better, with a higher OBP, SLG, OPS, the whole nine yards -- and he played center field (very well).

It's interesting that almost none of Edmonds' comparables were center fielders. He had the bat to look comparable to many guys who never had any business running down flies in the middle pasture. He isn't just "better than a few Hall of Famers," he's better than *most* center fielders in the Hall. Hall of Fame center fielders are, by and large, not a memorable group. Remove Mantle, Mays, DiMaggio, Speaker and Cobb, and Edmonds looks just fine compared to Hack Wilson, Kirby Puckett, Richie Ashburn, Lloyd Waner, etc. I'd vote for him.

Feb 21, 2011 08:29 AM
rating: 0
 
Patrick M

I'm open to getting persuaded that Edmonds had a HoF career, but since I consider Waner and Ashburn to be "mistake" picks, saying that Edmonds belongs because he was better than they doesn't strike me as being a convincing argument.

After all, if we set the qualifying bar for the HoF as "better than the worst HoF member at the same position", then we would need a massive expansion at Cooperstown :)

Feb 21, 2011 08:54 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Larry Granillo
BP staff

The better question to ask instead of "which CF in the Hall is Edmonds better than?" is "who in baseball was a better CF than Edmonds?"...

When you answer that question, you realize just how good Edmonds was...

Feb 21, 2011 09:02 AM
 
Patrick M

Indeed, and I hope no one has taken my comments to mean I don't think Edmonds was phenomenal. He was a tremendous ballplayer, and the list of players that were better is a short one.

Feb 21, 2011 09:04 AM
rating: 0
 
BillJohnson

Right. At the moment, the list of "better CFs than Edmonds" just has those five names on it in the Hall, with Griffey to join it. Center fielders as a whole are underrepresented in Cooperstown, at least CFs elected by BBWAA votes. Fewer center fielders have been voted in by the BBWAA (as opposed to Veterans' Committees or Negro League voters) than any other position except third base.

Feb 21, 2011 09:16 AM
rating: 0
 
stevemillburg

Who is the only center fielder ever in one season to score 100 runs, drive in 100 runs, hit 40 homers, walk 100 times, hit .300, and win a Gold Glove? Jim Edmonds, in 2004. And he almost did it in 2000, missing only in batting average (.295). Granted, Gold Gloves didn't debut until 1957, but this buffet of stats still illustrates the breadth of Edmonds' skills. Injuries and his willingness to take a walk depressed the counting stats that some Hall of Fame voters look for, which is why I don't actually expect him to make the hall. But I agree that only Cobb, DiMaggio, Mantle, Mays, Speaker, and Griffey (and maybe Sliding Billy Hamilton from the 19th century) were better at his position. Shouldn't the seventh-best (or eighth-best) center fielder in history be in the Hall of Fame?

Feb 21, 2011 14:39 PM
rating: 2
 
teflontim

Edmonds was a great player who deserves a spot in Cooperstown as much as Ozzie Smith.

Feb 21, 2011 18:36 PM
rating: 0
 
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