Edmonds was hurt and furious. On April 20, while the Angels were in Toronto, he telephoned the SkyDome press box from his home in California. He asked for DiGiovanna, chewed out the writer and then threatened him, saying, "I'll kick your ass!"
Several Angels, including Vaughn, now concede that they didn't fully understand Edmonds's situation, that they mistakenly thought that he had selfishly put off surgery. "Nothing," says Edmonds, "could be further from the truth."
Edmonds missed all but 55 games last season, batting .250 with five home runs. He came back on Aug. 2, when the Angels were 17� games out and in last place, even though Edmonds says team doctors told him not to return if the Angels were out of contention. "I felt like I had to test it out and see what I could do," says Edmonds. "I owed it to the team."
This off-season Edmonds tried to ignore the machine-gun fire of trade rumors that, until last week, had laid siege to his life. Edmonds was raised in Diamond Bar, Calif., just an hour's drive from Anaheim. Playing for the Angels, he says, was a dream. "I gave my all to that team, whether people believe it or not," says Edmonds, who has hit .290 with 121 home runs and 408 RBIs in seven seasons. "I've never known why they tried so hard to get rid of me." One minute he was going to the Oakland A's, the next to the New York Yankees. Or the Colorado Rockies. Or the New York Mets. The low point came in early February, when numerous media outlets reported that Edmonds was headed to the Seattle Mariners as part of a three-way trade that would have sent Ken Griffey Jr. to the Cincinnati Reds. When the "deal" never occurred—says Anaheim general manager Bill Stoneman, "We were never involved in [discussions about] a three-way deal with Seattle and Cincinnati"—and Griffey was traded to the Reds for centerfielder Mike Cameron and three others, reporters wrote that Edmonds had refused to play for the Mariners. "I swear to god, I never said anything like that," says Edmonds, who is making $4.7 million in the last season of a five-year contract. "The only thing I ever said was, I don't want to make a decision about signing a long-term contract right now. I've played three games at Safeco Field. How could I make a decision? Hell, I hadn't even been traded."
Edmonds, a slow talker, has picked up the pace. His blue eyes become angry slits. Four lines crease his forehead. "I've heard everything I was supposed to have said—that I was afraid to replace Griffey, that I don't want to play there because the ball won't carry." Edmonds glances at a clubhouse table, where a copy of Baseball America rests. In an issue published after the Griffey trade, columnist Peter Gammons wrote that the Mariners may have been more interested in obtaining Angels outfielder Garret Anderson than Edmonds because Edmonds "continues to insist that he won't sign a long-term contract in Seattle because it's cold and damp."
"I never in my life have said that," says Edmonds, who—in the pursuit of a peaceful winter—declined all interview requests in the off-season. "For Gammons to print that and not ever talk to me is just totally ridiculous. That's the hardest thing to take. Once a rumor gets rolling, it seems like it's a snowball. It makes it easier for other people to say stuff." (Gammons, who admits he did not call Edmonds, says, "I think Jim is a good player. But Jim probably knows that [former teammates] Gary DiSarcina and Darin Erstad don't like him, and he probably thinks that I'm siding with them.")
There was no player more in need of a fresh start than Edmonds, which is why, shortly after Stoneman told him of the trade last Thursday, Edmonds began weeping. That outburst was fueled by several emotions, including the joy of a new start and the sorrow of impending separation. He left the Angels' spring training complex a short time later, then returned early the next morning to bid farewell to Anderson, his closest friend. As the two hugged, Edmonds again cried. When he joined the Cards on Saturday, his eyes still red, he began to speak of Angels rightfielder Tim Salmon, who had strongly defended him on Thursday, saying he was such a natural talent that people incorrectly assumed he wasn't playing hard. "I appreciated that so much," said Edmonds, taking deep breaths, trying to stay composed. "For Tim to speak up for me...god, I haven't been this emotional in a long time." Edmonds began to bend the rim of his new red cap. "I just hope to fit in here, show that I can help us win."
Minutes later he was in manager Tony La Russa's office, being told, essentially, that the past is the past and reputations mean nothing. As soon as the deal was concluded, La Russa moved centerfielder J.D. Drew to right and placed Eric Davis (still recovering from off-season shoulder surgery) on the bench to make way for Edmonds in center. Unwanted on a team that will most likely finish in the American League West cellar, Edmonds is suddenly a key component in one of the more potent lineups in baseball. He is, at last, wanted.
"I don't know Jim much," says Cardinals leftfielder Ray Lankford, "but I'll tell you this: If he's the player everyone says he is, and he hustles and works his butt off, nobody will care what they said about him in Anaheim. That's old news. He's not an Angel anymore. This is a new day. Jim's a Cardinal."