I'm not totally sure, but I think my first ex-Cardinal experience was with Brian Jordan, every other nine year-old's favorite player in 1996. He played football! He runs hard! Your baseball-fan uncle likes that he plays the game the right way! He played in St. Louis forever after that, against hated Atlanta and indifferent Los Angeles and then end-of-the-line hated Atlanta, and he got standing ovations forever more. That is tenet one of the St. Louis Cardinals Alumni Association—if at least one to two thousand people in the stadium remember you, and they will, you will always get a standing ovation in your first at-bat of a given series.
Of course, to get there, you have to make a team. It's bad news for Braden Looper and Chris Duncan, two useful role players at the end of the MV3 era who have found themselves on the outs as teams revalue aging, once-useful role players. Braden Looper isn't anywhere, which is strange; he got hammered last year as an innings sponge, leading the league in home runs allowed, earned runs and starts, but still went 14-7, and in another year that would have been enough. As a starter he's a—I almost said non-starter without thinking about it. As a starter he doesn't make sense anymore, unless he's willing to sit in the PCL for a while waiting for his chance. But it's weird to see how completely Dave Duncan's transformation has stuck: his struggle finding a job in the offseason was almost entirely related as Braden Looper The Starter not finding work.
As a reliever, he's a little more competitive; he remains a big guy with a ROOGY motion, and as long as you can be used in some interesting way at the back of the bullpen a manager will take a look at you. But only recently has he ended up in bullpen talks—fittingly, about joining Carlos Zambrano in the Cubs pen.
As for Chris Duncan, he's on a team, technically, but things do not look good for our favorite corkscrew-swinging slugger. On Washington's AAA Syracuse club he's got a .430 OPS, and it's a hard .430—five singles, four walks, 29 at-bats. He's better than that, but how much better? I'd love to see him get another shot, but it looks like his real-life-scary neck problems have intruded once more into his baseball career. His 2006 line saved those Cardinals when they couldn't expect it at all; .293/.363/.589 from a guy with an .827 OPS in Memphis the year before? He could only technically play left field, but in 2006 and 2007 he was vitally important to a team whose third-best hitter was Juan Encarnacion.
Let's start with Jim Edmonds: He's having an awesome year. After starting the season .289/.400/.421 in center and right field—a kind of third-and-a-half outfielder in the Colby Rasmus 2009 sense—he dropped some isolated power into his line by going 4-6 with two doubles and a home run, and after today it sits at .341/.431/.568, after rounding an even 1.000.
As a Jim Edmonds Hall of Fame partisan from way back I want to see him hit 17 more home runs, to give him an even 400, but as a baseball fan I just want to see him do some more incredible things with the bat and glove. He is, along with Ichiro, the most stylish baseball player I've ever watched. Certainly not actual style; the man spent most of his prime with frosted tips and half-shirts. But the wild home run swing—the stationary front leg, the long uppercut, the prototypical homer-watch stance he ends up in—and the thrilling combination of great defensive instinct and terrible footspeed make everything he does on a baseball field exciting to watch. When he's doing something he seems to be filmed in more cinematic camera angles than anybody else.
And I was happy to see that in today's 20-0 drubbing the same skills remain evident. Watch this swing. Enjoy it.
Let's move to Rick Ankiel: He's having a less awesome year. After a hot start Ankiel, starting center fielder for the Royals, he's hitting .222/.283/.444, with three home runs but 19 strikeouts. His defense, much maligned in 2009, remains subpar. I'll always like to watch Rick Ankiel, and I think he was a bargain for the Royals this year—a guy who might be able to play center field and had a 119 OPS+ in 167 games leading up to his mediocre 2009 would have gotten more sympathetic attention from us if he weren't Rick Ankiel.
But the further he gets from one of those months where every swing is a home run, and every throw a bullseye to the catcher, the more worrying his career as an outfielder gets. It makes me wish he was still a Cardinal, if only for that one 20 inning game in which the thought crosses his mind that if Felipe Lopez can do it...