A tweet from our Jason Mastrodonato from the Boston Red Sox game last Saturday night really got me thinking.
"J.D. Drew strikes out looking, 0-for-3, now hitting .230. Josh Reddick: 2-for-3 with 2 RBI, now hitting .404. Hmmm...."
At the time, I was watching the surging Arizona Diamondbacks, led by Drew's younger brother Stephen, spank the St. Louis Cardinals for the third consecutive evening. The Snakes received their first three runs that night in a gift-wrapped package. Cardinals centerfielder Colby Rasmus came in on a drive hit by Arizona pitcher Daniel Hudson, but apparently couldn't decide whether to dive or catch the ball on the bounce. Caught in between was not the place to be as the ball scooted past Rasmus. As it rolled to the wall, the bases cleared with all three runs crossing the plate.
If starting pitcher Chris Carpenter was angry about since-deposed shortstop Brendan Ryan being late to take his defensive position in one game last season, one can only imagine how the intense hurler felt about Rasmus' gaffe.
Drew: a role model of sorts?
Now a third-year player, Rasmus is no longer a wet-behind-the-ears youngster. Yet both his hitting and his defense have been in long slumps during 2011.
In the field, Rasmus has seemed reluctant to take charge, deferring to others and letting catchable balls drop. Other times, he appears worried about the wall, pulling up when he should go for it. His throws have improved a bit after a period of uncorking worm-burners and/or missing the cutoff man with maddening regularity.
At the plate, Rasmus has looked increasingly lost. After batting .301 in the season's first month, he has gotten progressively worse each month since. The left-handed hitter batted .253 in May, fell to .213 in June and is .143 in July, as I write this.
Rasmus has just nine home runs in 2011 after teasing us by blasting 23 as a sophomore last season.
It apparently isn't a health issue, so what is it?
I fear it is a between-the-ears matter. Though the off-field storm had apparently been calmer this season, Rasmus, 24, clashed with manager Tony La Russa more than once in the past and was publicly criticized by team leader Albert Pujols last season.
This past week, the situation became national news once again. La Russa defended his hitting coaches while suggesting Rasmus' outside instructors should be held accountable for the slump. This led to an increased level of trade speculation, with .302-hitting Jon Jay playing the Josh Reddick waiting-in-the-wings role alluded to above.
With his first arbitration-eligible season coming up in 2012, Rasmus is only hurting his chances to once again return to big money. (He received a $1 million bonus upon signing out of high school in 2005.)
To bring this back to Jason and his tweet, the frustration with the former first-round draft pick Rasmus feels very familiar to me. The feelings of untapped potential and the appearance of indifferent play were once associated with another first-round, five-tooled pick of the Cardinals who also made his MLB debut at age 22, J.D. Drew.
Though Twitter had not yet been invented, message boards were in place back in 2002 and 2003 as were hecklers. I remember the taunts of "Nancy Drew" and the enterprising Photoshopper who modified a bottle of Pepto-Bismol for fans, re-labeling it "Drew Brew."
In Buss Bissinger's book focusing on the 2003 Cardinals and both written about and with the complete cooperation of manager Tony La Russa, "Three Nights in August," the future Hall of Fame manager was very direct in his criticism of Drew.
In Bissinger's words, "Interestingly, La Russa wondered if Drew's underlying ailment, like it was for so many young players coming into sudden millions, was the absence of a sustained passion that had no medical remedy. Did he simply lack the will to play in a way that would fulfill all those auguries?"
With Drew a year away from free agency, then-Cardinals general manager Walt Jocketty flipped him to the Atlanta Braves in December 2003 for a package that included a minor league pitcher named Adam Wainwright.
Since then, Drew bounced from Atlanta to Los Angeles, where he and agent Scott Boras opted out of his five-year contract after two. He then moved to Boston, earning more and more money at each stop. The injuries and inconsistency also followed.
Now at age 35, Drew and his numbers look to be in a late-career decline. Despite that once apparent unlimited potential, he seems destined to leave behind the legacy of a good, but never great player. He reached 30 home runs in a season just once. Ditto with 100 RBI. Same with All-Star Game appearances. Drew never stole 20 bases in a season as a major leaguer.
The ongoing Rasmus saga would have over two more years to play out before he reaches the point when Drew was dealt - if he makes it that long in St. Louis, that is.
Brian Walton was the 2009 National League Tout Wars champion, scoring the most points in the league's 13-year history. He is a 2009 NFBC league winner and finished in the top 25 nationally in both the NFBC and NFFC that season. His work can also be found daily at TheCardinalNation.com and thecardinalnationblog.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.