Credit where credit's due: Joe Strauss's profile of Colby Rasmus hits all the right bullet points, and brings us back—unwillingly, really—to a storyline that usually stops trailing this team when it starts winning.
Eyebrows raised when he would be tardy to a hitters' meeting after taking a clubhouse nap. A quick connection was made between his fatigue and off-field habits. He withdrew, sensing, "If I said something, the reaction would make me feel like it was the wrong thing to say. If I said nothing, people wondered if I cared."
"It's not easy being a rookie here," said Ryan, who played 67 games in St. Louis in 2007 and 80 in 2008. "I don't know why it's that way, but it's kind of the way it is."
I'm more inclined to believe something like this when it isn't being talked up in the wake of a disappointing season, or while somebody's on the way out; there's no need to scapegoat anybody on the 2009 Cardinals, the Man Stew to Busch Stadium's Crock Pot, so if nothing else I believe that Colby Rasmus felt isolated by his teammates, who were living different lives than he was.
Past that—I'm not a reporter; I have no way of knowing what these guys are thinking. But it's true that this decade's Cardinals have graduated few players so finally as Rasmus. Ryan himself is a good example of the way their homegrown players have typically ended up in the lineup—a half-season as a surprise injury replacement, a half-season as a forgotten disappointment, and most of a year as the fully formed Veteran Jester of a winning team. So too the two homegrown players Rasmus Wally Pipped; Ankiel was Ankiel, and Chris Duncan didn't get four at-bats in a game in 2006 until the middle of June, when he went on such a tear as to make his service time irrelevant. Yadier Molina began his career more as Cody McKay's replacement than Mike Matheny's, even if the Cardinals' next move was obvious the whole time.
Rasmus didn't begin the season in the starting lineup, though he always seemed like the third-and-a-half outfielder, but to find a Cardinals career that begins even that cleanly, with so little of what Tony La Russa calls "dues-paying", you have to go back to Albert Pujols. (And if Albert Pujols wanted to join my team I'd be happy to pay the dues for him.) Speaking of which, the relevant quote from the article:
However, La Russa disputes the notion of a clubhouse hostile to young players. Asked about Rasmus' discomfort, he cited "rookie dues."
"We're less of a dues-paying group than some others," La Russa says. "He didn't have to dress up in a ridiculous costume or something like that."
That's an oblique way of deflecting the criticism, at best—wearing dresses in front of the regional sports guys' cameras is fun and games, "virtual isolation" is not—but it is not in La Russa's Fu Manchu mien to be direct in the face of stories that relate to the team's internal relationships.
Whether the premise of Strauss's story is true or not, it highlights something that's true about La Russa and any other manager—there are tradeoffs for playing a certain way, and assembling a team with a certain character, and some of them will hurt. Scott Rolen couldn't keep playing for the Cardinals; Colby Rasmus had a rough rookie year. As Rasmus says himself, if he had been on a different team he might have had a better rookie year. But when La Russa avoids the real question of the team's environment I think he is avoiding the necessary fact of any managerial philosophy—some players won't thrive if the team is playing like it's "supposed to."