During this millennium, Jim Edmonds has been the quintessential Cardinal. Quietly colorful, fun, gifted, smart, responsible, and perhaps the best defensive center fielder in team history – what's not to like? Edmonds is a fan favorite. People pay to see his circus robberies of deep flies to center. His throwing arm is a cannon that strikes fear in opposing runners. Streaky with the bat, he can alternate between spectacular home runs and strike outs on goofy swings reminiscent of Willie McGee. Although I've never met him, I like and respect the man as a player and a person. His defensive snarls to a press corps that was badgering Rick Ankiel were priceless.
Unfortunately, 2006 has not been kind to Edmonds. This is his walk year. Unless Cards ownership exercises an option for 2007 for him, he'll be a free agent after this year. Simply put, his walk year – that season when a player so desperately wants to shine – has been a disaster. Although still effective defensively, Edmonds' offense was been woefully below the high standards he set a couple of years ago. A healthy Edmonds, a rarity these days, still has the ability to perform offensively at close to those levels, but now I'm just plain worried about him.
Good Cardinal fans know that Jimmy has been suffering a number of conditions related to post-concussion syndrome, including blurred vision and mental confusion. The concussion itself occurred on June 21 at Comiskey Field in Chicago when he smacked the wall trying to rob Joe Crede of a home run. He left the game against the Reds on August 15 complaining of nausea and dizziness. It has been reported that he was unclear on what the inning was.
Although he has since returned to the line-up, he has been clearly ineffective and flailing. In Friday's game against the Cubs, Edmonds struck out four times. He never looked comfortable or close to hitting a ball. The Cardinals – and Jim Edmonds – need to be worried and watchful.
I'm no physician, but a little research on concussions and post-concussion syndrome is disturbing. Concussion, once sarcastically called "getting your bell rung" and other diminishing phrases, has taken on a whole new seriousness in recent years in sports. Modern medical imaging technology and new research debunk the myth of a benign concussion. Concussions are now also called traumatic brain injury. The physics of the injury occurs much as an unrestrained passenger in a vehicle collision. The vehicle stops. The passenger continues in motion until the dashboard or windshield halts the motion definitively. An object in motion tends to remain in motion.
In this case, while the skull in motion is stopped suddenly – in this case, a collision with the wall in center field – the brain continues its motion forward. The energy is dissipated violently by the skull case, causing a deformation of the brain. Swelling of the brain after the injury causes the symptoms Edmonds now experiences. Football players who couldn't remember the day of the week after game were laughed at. Now they go to the emergency room, and with good reason. Post concussion syndrome can take months to resolve. Repeated injury can be career threatening and worse. Ex-Cardinal and still-treasured Mike Matheny's season has been undercut by this same situation.
I firmly believe Cardinal team doctors are taking Edmonds' condition seriously. I'm more concerned that Edmonds, given his competitive nature and desire to play well, might be pushing to play before his brain is healed. He has sustained a serious injury, and I'm worried about him. Forget the batting averages, strikeouts, RBI's, and silly numbers. Jimmy Ballgame must be healthy and full engaged in a game that has dangerous components to it. I'd rather both he and the Cardinals be very conservative in their handling of his treatment. This is one time when the Cardinals' playoff hopes need to take a distant back seat to the greater priority of Edmonds' health.
Rex Duncan can be reached via email at email@example.com