"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.