I'm not sure I want to think about where the Cardinals would be right now without Reggie Sanders during the month of June. If he takes the field tonight, as I fully expect him to, he will have played in every single game during the month of June. He had to be the iron man as the other starting outfielders Jim Edmonds and Larry Walker were recovering from various injuries.
Sanders was truly the glue that held the outfield and, perhaps, the Cardinals, together during this difficult stretch. He did it without complaint. He played hard and well every single inning of every game. At a time when other players might have been letting down, Reggie Sanders led by his example. It is in part because of his hustle, smart play, timely hitting, and solid defense that the Cardinals were able to maintain their lead over the Cubs during a stretch that saw other Redbirds play below their potential.
Reggie has had a good June. Batting .242 at the start of the month, he raised his average to .286 by batting .350 with an OPS of 1.093 for the month. Of his 40 RBI's, he collected 17 during June. Of his 17 home runs, he pounded out seven crucial homers in June. Excelling in clutch situations, he is batting .348 with runners in scoring position with two outs. His outfield play has been superb. He has never lost his temper, remained eternally patient, and was instrumental in calming younger players when things weren't going well.
At 37 years of age, it probably took much willpower for Reggie Sanders to take the field every day in June. Usually at this point in a career, a senior player is content playing five or six days each week with Sundays off. Not Reggie. With his remarkable physical conditioning and endless optimism, he seems to have transcended the matter of age. A viable candidate for the 30-30 club this year, he is playing some of the best baseball of his career.
If ever there was a journeyman in the game of baseball in recent years, it is Sanders. After a nice eight plus year stint in Cincinnati, he left the Reds after the 1998 season. After that he lived a nomadic existence playing for San Diego in 1999, Atlanta in 2000, Arizona in 2001, San Francisco in 2002, and Pittsburgh in 2003. He seems to have found a home in St. Louis as he actually is now in his second year.
Unfortunately it is also his walk year, and tough decisions lie ahead. Predictably, Sanders has become a favorite in Cardinal Nation. He is outgoing, personable, accessible, and has a smile that can light up Busch Stadium on the darkest night. With the media, he is articulate and courteous, and shows signs of a talent for a possible new career as a tv/radio analyst after his playing days conclude. He seems to love it in St. Louis, playing before the best fans in baseball, but there are no certainties about his future here.
So perhaps it is best to enjoy the here and now, and to appreciate the high level of play demonstrated by this very good man. When he comes to bat these days, the fans begin their chants of "Reggie! Reggie! Reggie!" That's not copying the chants of Yankees fans for Reggie Jackson. That is real love for one of the finest men to wear the birds-on-bat. As the 2005 season evolves, Reggie Sanders will continue to lead, inspire, and teach, all the while working hard to improve his own game. He is the real deal, and he has earned the respect and admiration of fans all across America
Rex Duncan can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.