Edmonds Loves Life in Midwest

Sunday, August 13th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

ST. LOUIS (AP) — Jim Edmonds left his bad-boy rap back in Anaheim.

When he was with the Angels, many thought he was a showboat outfielder who timed his spectacular catches for maximum effect, a malingerer and clubhouse poison. Even when he missed the second half of last season with a knee injury, the team's failures were his fault.

``I was being blamed for having the manager fired — and I wasn't even at the stadium for three months,'' he said.

In St. Louis, he's the people's choice, the man who's replacing the missing offense of injured Mark McGwire. He's pictured in a national publication with the city's two MVPs, Kurt Warner of the Rams and Chris Pronger of the Blues.

The implication?

Edmonds could be an MVP, too.

``Things,'' he said, ``are very different here.''

McGwire warned Edmonds during spring training.

``There's no other place to play in the country,'' McGwire said then. ``You'll see how these fans appreciate baseball players.''

St. Louis, eager to prevent Edmonds from becoming a free agent, agreed in May to a $57 million, six-year contract extension, the longest deal in Cardinals' history.

He's already bought a home in St. Louis County. Joining the Cardinals has improved his stature — helped by big numbers: a .317 average, 32 homers and 80 RBIs.

To him, it's more about timing — time zones.

``We're not playing at midnight on the East Coast,'' he said. ``I've had people tell me they've never seen Anaheim play a baseball game, and their scores are never in the paper the next day, and they're on 'SportsCenter' when I'm in bed.

``I think you get a little more exposure here, especially with Mark here and what he's done and what the city has done.''

Heading into the weekend, Edmonds led the major leagues with 104 runs and needed just one more homer to match his career best, set in 1995. On Thursday, his two-out double in the ninth inning gave St. Louis a 5-4 win over Colorado.

``He's a big-time candidate for MVP,'' Cardinals batting coach Mike Easler said. ``Take him off our ballclub, see where we'd be.''

Easler calls Edmonds' smooth, inside-out swing a classic.

``It's beautiful, one of the prettiest I've ever seen,'' he said. ``Championship caliber.''

Edmonds doesn't guess what his stats would be if he still was with the Angels.

He just wishes his old teammates could get a taste of the treatment he receives in St. Louis.

``Every couple days I talk to somebody that says they used to drive two hours to watch Cardinals games,'' Edmonds said. ``That's overwhelming to me. I'm not just talking about the fans, either, I'm talking about the whole picture of what it's like to be in a city that's just driven by sports and generations of people come to see you.''

So far, there's only one down side to fame: He has to check the rearview mirror for stalkers every time he leaves the ballpark.

``I grew up in Anaheim, so everybody knew who I was,'' he said. ``Here, you're more of an idolized figure, I guess. But I wouldn't say it bothers me.''