In a couple of months, he will almost certainly join them.
Them, Shawn Green and Reggie Sanders. Them, Steve Finley and Travis Fryman. Them, Mo Vaughn and Luis Gonzalez. Them, Bret Boone and Bernie Williams.
They are the great-but-not-legendary ballplayers of the late 1990s and early 2000s; a collection of athletically superior men whose achievements and statistics -- while significantly above average -- will serve to land them spring training instructor gigs, endless invitations to speak at Rotary breakfasts and a spot in the hometown newspaper's semi-annual What Ever Happened To ... feature spread.
In other words: Yawn.
Such is life for the retired non-Hall of Famer. You are forever reminded of what you once were, because, well, people never let you forget. All these years later, Bill Bradley is first and foremost a Knick. Keyshawn Johnson can morph into one of the greatest analysts in television history, but he'll eternally be the guy who clashed with Wayne Chrebet. Ryan Leaf is always a bust and, until the day he died, Mark Fidrych was asked to converse with nearby baseballs.
Ask most any retired jock what he/she wishes for most, and the two-part answer generally goes like this:
A. One last moment in the sun.
B. For everyone to stop talking about who I used to be.
That's why, when I learned a couple days ago of the Cincinnati Reds acquiring Jim Edmonds from Milwaukee for the late-season playoff push, I couldn't help but smile. Soon enough, Edmonds -- who has hinted at retirement after the season -- will have all the time in the world to coach a Northern League team and open up a Jimmy's Pub & Grille and spend more time with the family and regale countless people with that story about the big game when I blah blah blah blah blah.
But why not give a heckuva ballplayer one last moment of glory?
Why not allow a final moment in the sun?
Because we are a simple and forgetful people, it is easy to think of the Reds' newest outfielder merely as he is now -- a 40-year-old hit-or-miss swinger with some pop, little speed and a slightly above-average defensive skill set. Yet back in his heyday, when Ken Griffey, Jr. and Andruw Jones were considered the two best defensive center fielders in baseball, Edmonds was a close third. Very close.
While never quite as dynamic as Junior (but who was?) and not a horizontal go-getter of Jones' ilk (but who was?), Edmonds went back on deep shots as well as any outfielder the game has seen. His collection of Willie Mays-esque catches should be requisite viewing for all baseball-is-just-too-boring parishioners, and his miraculous running, leaping, diving grab against the Astros in Game 7 of the 2004 NLCS goes down as one of the greatest plays in modern baseball history.
Way back in the early-to-mid 1990s, when he came up with the Angels, Edmonds earned the reputation of something of a hotdog; as a guy who made easy catches look hard and hard catches look next to impossible. Word was he dove when he didn't need to. That he was a phony. A fraud. In early 2000, Sports Illustrated sent me to Anaheim's spring training facility to speak with Edmonds about his image. I had been warned to expect a cocky, stubborn man -- and discovered just to opposite. Edmonds was intelligent and sensitive and felt those who criticized his play didn't fully understand what it was to be a major league center fielder.
Shortly after I began reporting the story, Edmonds was shipped to the Cardinals for Adam Kennedy and Kent Bottenfield -- one of the most egregious trades in Angels history (Yes, Kennedy was a part of the Anaheim team that won the 2002 World Series. But he was merely a good middle infielder. Little more.). I'll always remember waiting outside the Cardinals' spring training clubhouse in Jupiter, Fla. Edmonds arrived on a Tuesday morning, a blue Angels tote bag dangling from his shoulder. He was nervous and uncomfortable. Upon being presented with a new red bag, Edmonds crumpled up his old one and tossed it in the trash. "Enough with that s---," he said. "This is a new start."
With St. Louis, Edmonds was embraced as a player who could take the Cardinals to the next level. A town used to the defensive wizardry of Ozzie Smith quickly fell in love with its newest Gold Glover (Edmonds has won eight), who in eight seasons with St. Louis batted .285 with 241 home runs and 713 RBI.
The past few years have been somewhat unkind to Edmonds, who was traded to San Diego after the 2007 season, released after just 26 games, then signed by the Cubs for the remainder of the year. He sat out all of 2009 to rest a battered body, then returned this year to hit a healthy .286 with eight home runs for Milwaukee. Edmonds has played 47 games in center, 13 in right and three at first base. Though far from what he was once, he is good enough to contribute.
And enjoy a final ride.