Learn From History? Maybe We’re Determined To Repeat It

The problem is that when we are blessed with plenty, we don’t appreciate it. But when we’re down to our last dollar, we hang on to it with everything we have.

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.

14 thoughts on “Learn From History? Maybe We’re Determined To Repeat It

  1. I agree that the Cards don’t want to repeat history. I also agree that it would be better had he been drafted later, because then things would be different. But, not the case. The situation is what it is. And I just wonder about the other circumstances — his dad, for example, and TLR, and how that affects and is affecting him now. Is he ever going to be able to reach his potential with all of that in the equation?

    • We can learn from history or we can believe that every situation is sui generis.

      A manager’s job is to get his players ready to play. And if Colby Rasmus isn’t ready to play up to his ability, we need to point a finger to the know-it-all in the manager’s office who doesn’t seem capable of doing his job to prepare players to play unless said player is gritty and a Proven Veteran(TM).

      If Colby Rasmus is traded because the manager can’t get him ready to play, then the Cardinals rid themselves of the wrong person. Even if all he does is hit 25 homers, drive in 80 RBI and hit .280, basically, Andy Van Slyke, Rasmus is a valuable player on this team.

      So it’s not Rasmus who should change. It’s LaRussa. It’s LaRussa who needs to stick up for the kid, who needs to forcefully and frequently tell the likes of Joe Strauss that he supports the kid, even when the kid gets help from his father.

      That’s not going to happen, of course, so I guess we can watch Rasmus help another team make the playoffs. And he will, if he’s traded.

      • Michael, is it really the manager’s job to get the players ready to play? To me, his job is to get the best lineup out there each night so they can succeed. The players should be able to get themselves ready to play. It’s not kindergarten, or even the low-level minor leagues where the players are learning how to be professionals.

        Colby, and not Tony Rasmus or Tony La Russa, is the one who should be able to get himself ready to play night after night. Where is the personal responsibility? Maybe that’s why Colby can’t reach his potential on his own — because he’s never *had* to take responsibility.

  2. This is a nice article but I am afraid that the situation has gotten out of control. The fans have been worked up into a frenzy thanks to the yellow journalism of the Post Dispatch. The merry hit squad at the PD have succeeded in their quest— to make Tony LaRussa’s life more comfortable by guaranteeing Colby Rasmus will not remain a Cardinal. “Luhnow’s Baby” will finally be a memory for Tony. Congratulations to Tony LaRussa.

  3. Interesting take on the situation. However, there doesn’t seem to be any indication that the Cardinals will repeat history. Even if they do repeat it, they may do so simply because they have needs to meet, and those needs may be greater than the desire to keep Rasmus. It’s not like fans are picketing Busch and requesting that Rasmus be traded for a bucket of baseballs. As a whole, Cardinal fans are a bit smarter than that.

    I don’t think it unreasonable for those same fans to have high expectations of a 1st round draft pick. Just consider some of the other players from that same 1st round – Justin Upton, Ryan Zimmerman, Tulo, Jay Bruce, Ellsbury, McCutchen and Ryan Braun come to mind. Rasmus does have the potential to be a lot like those guys, but he hasn’t shown that he’s likely to achieve that in St. Louis very soon. It could be that he just needs a change of scenery and a fresh start. If the Cardinals can give that to him while acquiring some pieces that they want/need, I don’t see a problem.

    Finally, I find your statement about Jon Jay’s BABIP and a rabbit’s foot a bit odd. I hope you realize that Jay’s BABIP in 2010 was actually .350, and he’s currently at .347 in 2011. If you combine the two, he’s actually played in 195 games with a BABIP just under .350.

  4. Colby doesn’t seem to care or listen if Tony and the staff do try to get him prepared to play like the rest of the team.
    I have gotten the impression that Colby’s Dad is one of those overbearing father types that wants his boy to listen to him and no one else. That can be a real burden on a team that wants their first round pick to succeed.
    Colby is a major leaguer. He should have gotten to that level by listening to the coaches trying to develop him. And maybe that is why it took so long for him to come to St. Louis. If he doesn’t listen to his coaches because he has his Daddy in his ear telling him to do the exact opposite of the coaches, those coaches aren’t going to be very willing to say this kid needs promoting.
    It’s probably all distracting for Colby. That could be why he just looks at fly balls going over his head. But when he is on and productive, he’s great.

    Think about it this way…. if in your job situation they have a certain way for you to do your job. You follow that pattern and by goodness gracious you keep moving your way up the corporate later. But then, there is a guy that while he may follow those rules occasionally, he also has a well-meaning outside source telling him that doing this might help him. But it isn’t the way the company wants it done because it is inefficient. Well, as you know, that becomes burdensome for the company to have everyone do it the corporate way and then one rogue numb skull doing it different. It’s not good for the employee, the co-workers or business.

    I am very apprehensive to see Colby go. I really want him to do well with the Cardinals. It may look like he is searching for unicorns out there some nights, but others he is lights out good. If he has to be traded, it has to be for someone great… none of this Proven Veteran or Let’s Just Get Rid of Colby type deals. If we are giving up that talent, we have to get some great talent in return.

  5. I have much to say about this but for now I’ll say, where is Colby’s voice in all of this? We know the fans are speaking out, TLR has his mind made up, and Daddy Rasmus won’t STOP talking, but what does COLBY think of it all?

    As for the rest, tune into the UCB Radio Hour tonight!

  6. Michael wrote:
    “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.”

    Among David Eckstein’s “rarely positive numbers” are 2 world series rings and a world series mvp.

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