Right now, we fans of the Cardinals are blessed with plenty in the outfield. We currently enjoy the unlikely season of Lance Berkman, the even more unlikely season from Jon Jay, and the good fortune to have Matt Holliday in the lineup. And as a result, these fans who consider themselves blessed are contemplating throwing away part of that plenty in Colby Rasmus. Have to admit I see their point. In the past couple of months, we’ve been frustrated watching him swing helplessly at breaking pitches in the dirt and playing the outfield as if he’d rather be somewhere else. Considering his severe drop in production, and concomitant outrage by St. Louis fans against his continued presence in the lineup, maybe he would rather be somewhere else.
But before we urge a deal Ramsus in haste, getting something in return approaching the talent level of a Luis Perdomo, can we take a moment for a history lesson?
Once upon a time, the Cardinals enjoyed the service of another promising center fielder. Kid by the name of Bobby Tolan. You could say he was the Rasmus of his time; a highly-touted prospect the organization looked to patrol the outfield for years to come — he could hit for average and power, and seemingly had the defensive potential of the veteran outfielder he’d might be replacing someday, Curt Flood. Even better, Tolan wasn’t challenging the reserve clause the way Flood was, and had the fans on his side. At least, at first. But like Rasmus, Tolan spent two years going hot and cold, hitting .253 in 1967 and .230 in 1968. Feeling he wouldn’t ever reach his potential, Tolan was shipped off to Cincinnati in exchange for Proven Veteran(TM) Vada Pinson. What’s worse is that the Cardinals threw in Wayne Granger — think Eduardo Sanchez or Fernando Salas. He was the Cardinals top bullpen pitching prospect at the time and would go on to great things with the Reds, until he hurt his arm. And Tolan? He only helped the Reds to the World Series in 1970 and 1972. The Cardinals wouldn’t see the Series again for almost a generation; Pinson? Well, that Proven Veteran(TM) the Cardinals needed so badly to keep their run of postseason appearances hit a career low in average in his first year in St. Louis and was shipped off to Cleveland.
The Cardinals had an excess of outfielders, see, and they were a veteran ballclub. A kid like Bobby Tolan wouldn’t have been a good fit, but Vada Pinson? Just the Proven Veteran(TM) the team needed.
And then there’s Andy Van Slyke, the player to whom so many comparisons have been made as of late. Like Rasmus, he was the Cardinals’ first round draft choice, in 1979. Like Rasmus, he tore up the minor leagues with his obvious talent — speed, power, average, defense. And like Rasmus, it took a while for the Cardinals to promote him to St. Louis, and then once there, time to give him a starting job. Whitey Herzog was turned off by the kid’s attitude — too lackadaisical, not serious about the game. For a first-round draft choice, the Cardinals wanted more than a .244 average with seven homers and 50 RBI in 1984 and a .259 average with 13 homers and 55 RBI in 1985. After he drilled 13 homers and 61 RBI with a .270 average, Herzog got his way and Van Slyke was shipped off along with Mike Dunne (think Adam Ottavino or Brandon Dickson. Kyle McClellan, maybe) to Pittsburgh for Proven Veteran(TM) catcher Tony Pena. So what did Van Slyke do his first year with the Pirates? Twenty-one home runs, 82 RBI and a .293 average. The next year, he made the first of his three All-Star appearances. Oh, the Cardinals could afford to give up Van Slyke. Why, they had the speedy Curt Ford ready to come up to be the next Vince Coleman. Don’t remember Curt Ford very well?
So here we had a perfect parallel to the present. As a first-round draft choice, Van Slyke was supposed to win a Gold Glove every year, hit 40 homers, drive in 120, hit .320, win the girl, save the day and be the apple of his manager’s eye. But because he liked a good time, and put up decent but not great numbers, Herzog was convinced the team would be better off without him. Well, they were, for one year. Pena helped the team win the 1987 pennant, but that would be the last Series appearance for the Cardinals for another generation. Van Slyke was a key player in Pittsburgh’s three straight playoff appearances from 1988 to 1990.
And now we have Colby Rasmus.
You know, he’d be better off if he had been drafted in the ninth or 10th round. Then, by making the majors, he’d be regarded as scrappy. See, that’s the problem with Cardinals fans. They love their scrappy players, the Bo Harts, the David Ecksteins, the Jon Jays, the Ryan Theriots. Never mind that those scrappy players rarely put up positive numbers, they just look like they’re playing hard, with their dirty uniforms and their first pumps. Even Albert Pujols is admired by Cardinals fans for his work ethic, not first his all-world talent. But a player who doesn’t look like he’s trying, somebody who looks like he’s just coasting on his talent alone without showing the evidence of hard work? That might fly in LA, or Seattle. Florida, maybe. But not with blue collar Cardinals fans who like their meat loaf piled high and their potatoes baked, with a beer in their hand. So Rasmus shouldn’t expect to be given an even break here. Theriot pops up with runners on, or drops an easy double play ball? Ah, well, but he’s cute, so we’ll forgive him. Jon Jay strikes out on a pitch two feet outside? He’ll get ’em next time. Rasmus lets a ball get by him in the outfield and allows three Diamondbacks to score? Get rid of his worthless ass. Thus the problem of a player who may or may not be trying — he just doesn’t look like he is.
Before the Cardinals decide to give into the hysterical, emotional, short-term thinking of their fans, they should consider two things: the history of this franchise when it comes to thinking they enjoy a plenty of young talent, especially outfielders. A kid like Rasmus is the type of player other teams are salivating to acquire. Shouldn’t that say something?
And two, some numbers. Like batting average on balls in play. Since mid-May, Rasmus has a .208 average on balls in play. That’s way under the league average around .300. Let’s look at this: his BABIP in May: .319. In June: .227, and July: .160. Yet his line drive rate over the same time: May: 15.2%, June: 20.3%, and July: 20.0%. So could it be Rasmus’ troubles of late could be due to some Allen-Craig-in-2010 terrible luck?
And for those who think Jon Jay is the second coming of Stan Musial? Well, Jay better keep hanging on to that rabbit’s foot, since his BABIP is around .350. Not even Ichiro can keep that kind of pace over a full season.
So, how about this? We don’t keep urging the Cardinals to trade Rasmus. We realize that it’s a long season, and the longer we watch, the more we see things even out. And we don’t look upon Rasmus’ smooth play not as a bug, but a feature of one of the brightest potential stars in this game.