AP Photo/Tom Gannam
I was in Jupiter on March 23, 2000, covering the final week of spring training. I finished my afternoon sportscasts and was leaving the Roger Dean Stadium facility earlier than usual…I guess because the station was going to carry a NCAA tournament game that evening.
As I was walking out of the media room with all my equipment, I spotted Cardinals General Manager Walt Jocketty strolling back into the office and said hi. He asked, “where are you going?” I didn’t have a show that night and explained that I was getting off early. He said, “you might want to stick around in the media room for a while.”
I went back in and was editing some tape when a member of the P.R. staff came in and passed out a press release announcing that the Cardinals had traded Kent Bottenfield, an eighteen game winner the year before, and top prospect Adam Kennedy to the Angels for Jim Edmonds.
At that point, the Cardinals weren’t getting “Jimmy Baseball.” He was 29, was set to become a free agent after the season, and had played in just 55 games the year before. We knew of his defensive prowess, but it was fair to wonder whether it was worth it to give up the club’s best position prospect in Kennedy and an eighteen game winner for a guy that had a recent injury history and would be gone after one year.
Former Pirates skipper Jim Leyland was between managing jobs at that point, and being a close friend of Jocketty and manager Tony LaRussa came aboard as a consultant. Leyland had evaluated the Cards roster and determined that they needed another outfielder. Jocketty had signed free agent starter Andy Benes during the off-season and traded for Pat Hentgen and Darryl Kile. Garrett Stephenson had impressed the Cardinals enough in 1999 that they were comfortable putting him in their rotation, and a rookie named Rick Ankiel was so impressive in spring training that they HAD to start him. Add in the fact that former ace Matt Morris would be returning to the rotation after spending 2000 in the bullpen recovering from Tommy John surgery, and Bottenfield became expendable.
When Edmonds arrived in the clubhouse a couple of days later, he carried his big blue Angels bag over to his locker next to Mark McGwire, and Big Mac extended a hand and said, “welcome to baseball heaven.” Edmonds got off to a fantastic start, hitting a home run in the second game of the season at Busch stadium and hitting a dozen homers in his first 37 games. After that 37th game, on an off day on May 15, with Edmonds leading the majors in batting (406), slugging percentage (.972) and on-base percentage (.532), he signed a six-year, $57 million contract to stay in St. Louis.
That deal set in motion the great Cardinal success of the last two decades. In eight years in St. Louis, he played in the post-season six times, going to the NLCS five times, the World Series twice and winning the 2006 Championship. Edmonds is a Cardinal Hall of Famer and a borderline National Baseball Hall of Famer and goes down as arguably the greatest center fielder in Cards history.
It was twenty years ago but doesn’t seem that long. Bottenfield was never as good as he was in 1999 and Kennedy was just OK. It became one of the great trades in Cardinal history. That’s one of the moments that sticks out in my mind’s eye, how Jocketty retooled the Cardinals into a consistent winner with his moves before the 2000 season…with the best one coming twenty years ago when he got Edmonds from the Angels.