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Rent-A-Reggie

June 21, 2004
June 21, 2004

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June 21, 2004

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Rent-A-Reggie

Voted by his peers, in an SI poll, as the fourth-best-dressed
player in baseball, Reggie Sanders is an accomplished outfielder
and fashion critic, part Mickey Rivers, part Joan Rivers. Ask him
to name baseball's best uniform and he thinks for a very long
time before saying, "I really like what Cincinnati did, when they
cut off the sleeves and went with the vests."

This is an article from the June 21, 2004 issue Original Layout

No major league player in the last 112 years has worn more
uniforms, in as short a time, as the 36-year-old Sanders, who has
played for seven teams in the last seven seasons. In that time he
has made a living on most of the continent (Cincinnati, San
Diego, Atlanta, Arizona, San Francisco, Pittsburgh, St. Louis)
and worn on his cap a good many consonants (C, SD, SF, P and
STL), plus two styles of A. "I can't imagine what it's like to be
Reggie," says Cardinals slugger Albert Pujols, his teammate this
season. "I've played for one team in my career, and it's nice not
having to worry about moving my family."

Sanders, on the other hand, moved his wife, Wyndee, and their
three daughters from Cincinnati to San Diego to Atlanta to
Phoenix in little more than 24 months. As he recounts this, a
Cardinals teammate walks by, and the name on his
back--RENTERIA--sounds like an affliction, a malaise that befalls
the serial renter.

But the serial-renting Sanders doesn't view his peripatetic
career that way. "Every place I've played has been enjoyable,"
says the National League lifer. "I won a World Series [in Arizona
in 2001]. The next year, I got to go back to the World Series
with San Francisco. I played at Yankee Stadium in the World
Series. I've played at Fenway during interleague. Honestly, I
wouldn't trade my career for anything."

Still, when you come from a Mayflower family--moving van, not
Pilgrim ship--you do long for stability. And so, on a 90° day,
beneath an inoperative electric fan in the visitors' dugout at
Ameriquest Field in Arlington, Texas, Sanders seems to sigh when
he says, "We did love San Diego. My wife's from there. It has a
great school system. We lived in a rented house in La Jolla, near
the water...." Under the inert oscillating fan, he drifts into a
brief reverie, perhaps redolent of ocean breezes.

But then the mind will wander during the endless sweep of a
baseball season. Consider the time that Sanders, while with San
Diego, whiffed for the third out of the seventh inning in a game
against Montreal. Undaunted, Padres teammate Phil Nevin strode to
the plate and ran the count to 2 and 1 before anyone--in a game
attended by thousands--realized there were already three outs. "I
had no idea," says Sanders. "The umps didn't know. The fans
didn't know. The Expos didn't know."

And yet it was scarcely the strangest moment of his varied
14-year career. While with the Reds, the team for which he played
his first seven seasons, Sanders spoiled then Expos pitcher Pedro
Martinez's perfect game with one out in the eighth inning by
getting hit by a pitch. Ten years later, from this far remove, it
seems rash of Reggie to have charged the mound, as if the
plunking were intentional. "Looking back on some of these
things," he says with an air of disbelief, "you realize that they
really happened." So, yes, a large man really did knock down a
four-year-old while scrambling for a foul ball in Arlington on
Sunday, reducing the toddler to tears and prompting Sanders, who
saw the scene on a clubhouse TV, to hand a bat to the boy in the
stands.

Cincinnati traded Sanders to San Diego in 1999, and San Diego
traded him to Atlanta in 2000. But then a funny thing happened to
the serial renter. He became a serial rentee. Sanders signed
three consecutive one-year contracts as a free agent, each time
plugging a hole in the lineup of a team that had no money to
re-sign him at season's end. He became renowned as a clubhouse
chameleon, an exceedingly pleasant person who blends well into
any roster. (And he's driven in 80 or more runs each of the last
three seasons, including '03, when he led the Pirates with 87.)
St. Louis manager Tony La Russa speaks for all of Sanders's
skippers when he says, "Reggie has been nothing but a positive
influence on our club since the first day of spring training."

Which may be why the Cardinals did an extraordinary thing: They
signed Sanders to a two-year contract. Thus he's unlikely to
break the record set by Paul Revere (Shorty) Radford, who played
for eight teams in eight consecutive seasons from 1885 to 1892.
Says Sanders, a lifetime .267 hitter, "I want to end my career in
St. Louis."

His wife and children took root in Scottsdale while Sanders was a
Diamondback. They bought a house, in which Wyndee has framed
every one of her husband's jerseys. Two months ago she gave birth
to a fourth girl, named Cooper. "To have my family as a
foundation," says Sanders, "has been a true blessing."

His father died of a heart attack five years ago, at age 50. Last
Friday night at Ameriquest Field, where he hadn't played since
the '95 All-Star Game, Sanders drove in two runs, scored three,
stole a base, singled to center, doubled to left and homered to
right, after which he crossed home plate and pointed heavenward,
as he always does, to the late Ernest Sanders.

In his locker--home or away, neatly aligned with his
toiletries--stands a wooden bust of Jesus, the size of a coconut,
that Sanders bought in his native South Carolina the year his
father died. "I take it everywhere," he says.

And he does mean everywhere.

COLOR PHOTO: SIMON BRUTY

No player in the last 112 years has worn more uniforms, in as
short a time, as the Cardinals' Reggie Sanders.