In 2005, Colby Rasmus was drafted as a centerfielder out of high school. He instantly became the #1 prospect in the Cardinals system.
In 2009, at the age of 23, Colby Rasmus given the job of everyday centerfielder.
In 2011, Colby Rasmus was traded to the Toronto Blue Jays. The Cardinals would go onto win their 11th World Series title.
If you're looking for a cheap MSPaint chart that demonstrates the popularity of Rasmus with Cardinal fans, it peaks in 2009 and faces a rapid descent. Even throughout his 2010 season, when Rasmus was hitting the ball remarkably well, he was not a beloved figure.
Much, if not most, of that was due to Tony LaRussa. Rasmus and LaRussa never got along and Rasmus found himself trapped inside a series of proxy wars between the old regime and the new wave of front office thinking. The rest of the distrust that fans had for Rasmus was likely linked to his complete inability to give an interview or come across as personable. Of course, Tony Rasmus, Colby's father, did little but foment trouble with the aid of a few individuals like Brian Walton and Joe Strauss.
It was a collection of ill-tempered and impatient people all thrown into the same cauldron of media surrounding Colby Rasmus. Needless to say he responded poorly.
With the World Series after Colby's departure, there was an element of "I told you so" that came from the portion of the fan base who disliked him -- and it was a large portion of the fan base -- but, full disclosure, that was never me. In a lot of ways, I tracked Colby's rise with my own interest in prospects and it was awfully hard not to like the kid in the minors. The level of stress hadn't settled on his shoulders as fully and he was simply better than most of his opponents. When that carefree nature dissipated, so did his performance.
Rasmus ceased being an entity unto himself in the majors and became a kind of catch-all symbol for whatever anyone wanted to project on him. He represented the uncertainty of prospects who fail once they reach the majors. He represented the importance of intangibles and attitude or, conversely, the importance of a bad attitude and how damaging it can be. He represented the old guard versus new guard battle that continued to roil the front office. He represented the necessity of listening to your coaches ... unless those coaches are your father.
There wasn't an identity to this dopey, hard working kid from Alabama in the majors. His struggle to convey his inner thoughts in interviews left him a canvas to be painted by the viewer with whatever preconceived notions they brought to the table.
Expectations were so high for Rasmus that there was almost certainly no way that he could live up to them. Rasmus graduated to the majors in the age of titillating prospects and if there wasn't immediate gratification in their rookie performance, then there was immediate dissatisfaction. (This is now a common occurrence among top prospects who don't immediately perform. Alex Gordon, Adam Jones, Jurickson Profar and others can attest to the desire of fans for instant production as if the majors are simply an extension of Triple-A baseball.)
It's hard to look back at 2011 and remember how dysfunctional that team and the media relations were but it was there. LaRussa was taking shots at players in the media as he is wont to do, the bullpen was imploding every other night and shortstop ... my goodness, shortstop was a mess. So when things even out after a trade, there is bound to be a feel of causal nature that is higher than what it was.
Ultimately, that's not my point today. I'm not writing to contest the series of events that led to Rasmus' departure. I'm not arguing that the trade which sent Rasmus to Toronto wasn't a successful one. I'm writing about something simpler than that.
It's fun to watch Rasmus play baseball again and that's a good thing. Here's a kid that, for all his faults, came from a baseball first family with a lot of expectations for his future. Some of those were his expectations and some of those were others expectations. As an armchair psychologist, those expectations crushed him in St. Louis. Clearly, there were lingering personal issues from his time in St. Louis -- he couldn't help but discuss St. Louis in interviews while wearing a Blue Jays jersey. There were scars there.
When you follow a prospect closely, or any baseball player closely, it raises the level of attachment to the game. I love baseball for its statistics and rigorous analysis that is unlike any other sport. I watch baseball to see players I like do big things. It left an admittedly sour taste in my mouth to see Colby Rasmus crushed in St. Louis regardless of the cause or fault of that situation.
So it's exciting again to see Rasmus playing well. (For those of you with the need to project big ideas onto players, here's a sampling: Rasmus represents the importance of coaching. Rasmus represents the need for a change of scenery. Rasmus represents the long view of players and the reality that true talent level doesn't fluctuate or disappear over night.) Rasmus is riding high on some elevated BABIP stats but he's also elevating the ball more and with more power. He's not a contact hitter and frankly he never was but when Rasmus gets a hold of a baseball, he can hit it a long way.
It's strange to me that in just five seasons of baseball, Colby Rasmus made himself such a polarizing figure in a town that usually idolizes its players. I think that says more about St. Louis than it does about Rasmus but I may be wrong. None of that really matters anymore. Rasmus finds himself having a tremendous season as a top five centerfielder and one of the best players in the game right now. If that doesn't bring a smile to your face as a fan of baseball -- regardless of his past with St. Louis -- then I'm not sure what will.
Here's to you, Colby Ramus, for the good times in spite of the bad ones. Best of travels and good luck.