Dan Miceli knew the stakes. The veteran Houston Astros reliever was handed the assignment of keeping Game 6 of the 2004 NLCS tied just one more inning, just long enough for one of the Killer B’s to step up and send the Astros to their first ever World Series. The task was simple: get St. Louis Cardinals superstar CF Jim Edmonds to hit into a double play, head to the 13th, and let the B’s do their work. Well, perhaps I should say the goal was simple. The task was a nightmare.
Jim Edmonds was no stranger to big moments in his career. In 2000, Cardinals GM Walt Jocketty essentially stole him from the then Anaheim Angels for journeyman starter Kent Bottenfield. Edmonds then wasted no time in endearing himself to the hearts of Cardinal fans everywhere with CF play not seen since the likes of Curt Flood. In fact, Edmonds was so good he would go on to finish fourth in the NL MVP voting, and slug 42 homers to go along with a .994 OPS. Woe be the Angels.
2000 would also mark the beginning of one of the most successful eras of a remarkably successful franchise, as they have to date reached the playoffs in 10 of the previous 14 seasons, to go along with four National League championships and two World Series titles. But for many fans, the trade that brought “Jimmy Ballgame” to the Gateway City was the catalyst that started it all.
Though the club did not reach the game’s largest stage in Edmonds’ first four seasons, it would show continuous and consistent development towards reaching that goal. Like Edmonds himself, little by little the farm system was strengthening, and the management style and philosophy of Tony LaRussa was permeating throughout the organization. By 2004, it was apparent the Big Red Machine of the National League was a giant menacing Redbird steamrolling the competition.
A good portion of this was directly attributable to Jim Edmonds. While it is easy to point out eight gold gloves in a time where no less than Andruw Jones was in his prime, and of course the career .903 OPS to go along with a Baseball Reference WAR of over 60, there was more to his influence.
The Hall of Fame, it is said, considers carefully, character. The same voters who criticize some players like Jim for a lack of stats, will also sniff their nose at a player with prodigious stats. There is no intellectual consistency among the voters equivalent to the character they require. But it is a component.
So perhaps we should ask Yadier Molina about the leadership Edmonds gave in the clubhouse. Ask current manager Mike Matheny about the games lesser players would have been on ice for in the heat of pennant races. Ask the numerous charities Edmonds involves himself in, and ask those who played against him about his tireless work ethic, team-first persona and ultra-professional demeanor.
And perhaps, ask the voters of the Hall of Fame, what does the “Steroid Era” truly represent? Is not selecting a player of Edmonds caliber and personal integrity the single biggest message that can be sent about character? Is it not an opportunity to tell fans, especially children, that we do still truly care about the right things, and playing the game the right way?
Sure, and surprisingly to some, Edmonds’ career stats compare favorably with other CF legends. You might be surprised to know that a close comparison is Brooklyn Dodger legend and Hall of Famer, Duke Snider, for example. But we can save that for another day because if off the field truly counts, the Baseball Writers Association of America will have their chance to prove it.
But what do we remember most about Edmonds, the player? Perhaps we should return to Dan Miceli for that one, and get his opinion. Let’s ask him because he knew the stakes when he threw that 0-1 fastball, the one that Jim drove deep into the St. Louis night for a series-tying home run.
That was the one that etched his name forever in Cardinals lore and forced Game 7, which would be a win that catapulted the club into the World Series for the first time since 1987. Yes, Miceli knew the stakes. And he was helpless as he stood crestfallen, watching Jimmy Ballgame drive them right through the Astros’ heart.