A classic five-tool player, Edmonds powered baseballs to all fields with a gorgeous left-handed stroke and patrolled center field with a rare combination of grace and flair. He often made baseball look easy — too easy, his teammates sometimes grumbled.
No one questioned Edmonds’ talent. He earned a spot on the 1995 AL All-Star squad in his first full season, when he batted .290 with 33 home runs, 107 RBIs and 120 runs scored. Over the next three years he never hit below .291 or launched fewer than 25 round-trippers, all the while providing a steady diet of highlight reel plays in the outfield.
But Edmonds often faced criticism from teammates who didn’t take kindly to the southern California native’s laid-back attitude. He irritated some players who saw his casual style of play as laziness, and infuriated others who felt he never made the effort to fulfill his enormous potential. “He can definitely play the game when he wants to,” said Angels starter Chuck Finley. “Jimmy’s biggest problem is Jimmy.”
Hard-nosed team leader Mo Vaughn took Edmonds to task before the 1999 season, reportedly packing the center fielder’s suitcase and telling him to leave if he didn’t want to be with the team. “Jim Edmonds is one of the most talented guys I’ve ever played with,” said Vaughn. “The responsibility is what’s in question.”
Edmonds also had trouble avoiding injury, likely a result of his predilection for diving catches and collisions with outfield walls while pursuing enemy fly balls. A shoulder injury in the spring of 1999 limited him to 55 games that season, further straining his relationship with skeptical teammates.
With Edmonds due for free agency after the 2000 season, the Angels worried that they would lose him to another team and get nothing in return. His name flew in trade talks throughout the winter and spring, as the New York Yankees, Oakland Athletics and Seattle Mariners all tried to land him. Less than two weeks before the start of the season, the Angels sent him to the St. Louis Cardinals for starter Kent Bottenfield and second baseman Adam Kennedy.
His first year in St. Louis proved a smashing success. Edmonds got off to a hot start with his bat while the Cardinals led the NL Central virtually from start to finish. He set career highs in 2000 with 42 home runs, 306 total bases, 108 RBIs and 129 runs scored. (The free-swinger also fanned 167 times, the most ever by a Cardinals player and a record for an NL left-handed batter.) Edmonds, who finished fourth in league MVP balloting, was so enamored of his new baseball home and its ardent fans that he signed a six-year extension with the club in early May.
During the Cardinals’ three-game sweep of Atlanta in the Division Series, Edmonds terrorized the Braves’ vaunted pitching staff, ripping four doubles and two home runs while driving in seven runs. He added a home run and five RBIs in the club’s four-game loss to the Mets in the League Championship Series.
In 2001, Edmonds couldn’t match the production of his first summer in St. Louis, but he proved himself a solid investment for the team. An August and September batting surge coincided with the Cardinals late-season playoff run, and brought his offensive numbers in line with his careers norms.