The Duffel bag was big and dark blue, an official Major League Baseball model with an Anaheim Angels logo on the side. As Jim Edmonds held it for the final time, about to drop it into a garbage can in the St. Louis Cardinals' spring training clubhouse, utility infielder Shawon Dunston—thrifty if not sentimental—shouted, "Jim! What are you doing? You should save it."
Edmonds paused for a moment, turned his head toward Dunston and smiled. He then dropped the bag and walked back to his locker, where a brand-new, bright-red Cardinals duffel was already in place, one with Edmonds's number 15 on it. "Hell," he said, "I ain't saving that crap."
First days at the office are generally easy—lots of gladtameetcha's and directions to the coffee machine. It wasn't any different for Edmonds last Saturday; two days after St. Louis acquired the two-time Gold Glove centerfielder from Anaheim for righthanded starter Kent Bottenfield and second baseman Adam Kennedy. Edmonds handled everything smoothly, from a 20-minute t�te-�-t�te with Mark McGwire ("You'll like it here," said Big Mac. "We've only got one beat writer") to his initial encounters with the media (said Edmonds, repeatedly, "I'm just happy to be here") to his first hit as a Cardinal (a second-inning RBI single to left off the Baltimore Orioles' Calvin Maduro). All that was easy; the hard part will be overcoming the hellish reputation that has dogged him for years. A friendly .300-hitting slugger who signs autographs, produces in the clutch, is accessible to the press, hates to lose...and may be the most unpopular player in the game.
Baseball is a tight community. So tight that shortly after the trade was announced, several St. Louis players approached Mike James, the Cards' reliever and a former Angel, to inquire about their newest teammate. This wasn't an "Is he a gin rummy or dominoes guy?" inquiry. "They wanted to know if all the garbage that's been said about Jim is for real," says James, one of Edmonds's closest friends. "Probably everyone in [this clubhouse] has heard the stuff—that he doesn't play hard, that he's a showoff, that he's not a team player. I told them the truth, that 99 percent of it is totally false."
And the other 1%?
"Nobody," says James, "is perfect."
Edmonds isn't quite sure when his evil reputation began to take shape. Maybe it goes back to the minors, when, despite being a hot five-tool prospect, small-town newspaper columnists took swipes at him: Doesn't try hard enough. Showboat. Loafer. Maybe it was when he was a rookie, in 1993, when veteran Angels mocked Edmonds (mostly behind his back) for his cocky demeanor. Maybe it was his third season when, during a pregame workout, he was embarrassed by a prank former teammates still cackle over (which says more about them than about him). One day earlier Edmonds had made a dazzling catch to save a run and then milked the moment by rolling around on the turf, mitt raised triumphantly. The next day, as Edmonds was stretching on the field, teammate Tony Phillips approached him from behind and placed a ketchup-splattered napkin, made to look like a sanitary napkin, under his legs. "Who's the pretty boy!" Phillips shouted as teammates roared with laughter.
"No question, Jim sometimes has a problem with body language and image," says San Diego Padres third baseman Phil Nevin, Edmonds's friend and Angels teammate in 1998. "People interpret him as being conceited, and it's not the case." Edmonds usually wears his cap backward during workouts, and he runs with a smooth, easy stride. "When I first got to Anaheim," says Nevin, "everyone told me I'd hate Jim because I'm such a hardnosed guy who cares about winning. Jim is confident, and he has his own way, but he wants to win, too."
That's not always obvious to all his teammates. Two years ago, after the American League West-leading Angels surrendered a four-game lead over the Texas Rangers with a month left in the season, several teammates were furious because of Edmonds's nonchalance. "Jim smiles a lot and is outgoing," shortstop Gary DiSarcina told the Los Angeles Times. "That's his persona. But you can't act like that when you're on the verge of elimination. You can't bounce into the clubhouse without a care in the world when your teammates are bloodied, ticked off and not wanting to go home." That September, as Edmonds batted .340 with five home runs and 20 RBIs, DiSarcina hit .241 with no homers and five RBIs. "What matters is what you do on the field," says Edmonds. "If we're mathematically out of it on Aug. 1, I'm not going to come in the next day and want to kill myself. If you treat it like that, that's when you have a problem playing the game."
Last spring training was the worst for Edmonds. For three years he had played with a sore right shoulder, but he says that while mere was pain from time to time, it was never bad enough to consider an operation. Then, three days before the season began, Edmonds was bench-pressing in the Edison Field weight room when—pop!—he tore the labrum in his right shoulder. "I was devastated," says Edmonds, who has been on the disabled list four times in his career. "I felt I was letting the team down." Shortly after the injury, when Edmonds learned that he needed surgery and would miss at least four months, he told the Times's Mike DiGiovanna that his shoulder had been bothering him for several years. When DiGiovanna put that in his story, some Angels fumed. First baseman Mo Vaughn tore into Edmonds, saying, " Jim Edmonds is one of the most talented guys I've ever played with. The responsibility is what's in question."