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"Colby was not a great hitter in high school," says his dad, Tony Rasmus. "And he's still not a great hitter."
But a while later he says the opposite: "[Colby] was a great baseball player for me in high school. I read all the stuff that's written about him, and it kills me to read some of it because I know it's not accurate. I know how good he is."
Contradictory statements? Not coming from Colby Rasmus' voluble father, who coached his son to championships in the Little League World Series and at Russell County (Alabama) High School. Although his thoughts tend to weave in and out of the baseline, in the end they true up. Tony Rasmus considers his eldest son, who this week begins his third full season in the major leagues, both a gifted ballplayer and a stubbornly incomplete one. A first-round draft pick and $1 million bonus baby in 2005, the St. Louis Cardinals' starting center fielder is very good — but he could be great. Especially if he'd listen to his dad more often.
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Or so says his dad.
"From the time a kid turns 14 until he's about 19 or 20 — or in Colby's case, 23 — they always think their dad's the dumbest person that ever walked the planet," the senior Rasmus says. "He thinks I don't know what I'm talking about." And yet when he has had trouble adjusting to big-league pitching, Colby has turned to Tony as a personal swing doctor. The two worked together before the 2009 playoffs and after Memorial Day last season, and both times Colby immediately caught fire at the plate. Cardinals manager Tony La Russa himself has signed off on Mr. Rasmus' interventions.
Excepting Chris Duncan (who, as the son of Cardinals pitching coach Dave Duncan, is a special case), no Cardinal player in memory has had his dad get so involved in the team's affairs. In addition to advising Colby, Tony Rasmus periodically vents opinions (and gossip) about the Cardinals on blogs and chat boards — most recently this past December, when, under his frequent online alias RCWarrior, he shared some thoughts about Colby's off-season program. Some people cheer him as a blunt truth teller with a refreshingly unsentimental view of the baseball industry. Others think he's an attention-starved shit disturber who's trying to stage-manage his son's career and doing at least as much harm as good.
He might be both of those things — or maybe he's neither. Maybe he's something more ordinary: a parent struggling to coax a child through to adulthood. A former pro ballplayer himself (in the Angels system), Tony Rasmus can see the traps Colby is liable to stumble blindly into. Should he steer the boy clear or let him step on a mine or two — as he did at midseason last year when he mouthed off to La Russa that he wanted to be traded — and learn his lessons the hard way? Let the kid swing away, or put up the take sign?
At some point, every parent — like every coach — gets reduced to the role of spectator. The kids ultimately sort it all out for themselves, on the field.
That, as much as anything, explains the shit Colby's dad says.
Riverfront Times: When you say Colby wasn't a great hitter in high school, do you mean he wasn't a natural hitter? Because he did come close to setting a state record for homers.
Tony Rasmus: Colby's always been a pull guy. Everybody's saying every year, "Aw, Colby's dad wants him to hit home runs" — all this kind of stuff. God, it's just the opposite. If I go to work with him on his hitting, all we do is work on hitting the ball the other way. He's always been a pull guy. I think it's still the hardest thing for him to get out of. And like I said, I'm the dumbest person that ever walked. I try to talk to him about that stuff, and he just thinks I don't know what I'm talking about. If I call him, the first thing he'll say is, "Hey, what's my swing like?" And I'll say, "Do you want me to tell you the truth?" Because if I tell him the truth, he'll immediately get snippy with me. He wants to hang up.
But he does seek your advice.
I talked to [St. Louis Post-Dispatch baseball beat writer] Joe Strauss a little bit about this, and it came across as me being kind of arrogant. But it wasn't meant to be that way. When I work with him, he'll hit, because I'll work on going the other way. That's all we do. I never let him pull the ball if I'm working with him. If he lets the ball travel deeper, he hits the ball better. His problem is when he gets out front and then he has negative acceleration as far as his bat goes. That slows the bat down, and that's what ends up causing all of his failures.
Reportedly that's what the Cardinals have been working on with him. Did they try to get him to spray the ball more when he was in the minors?
I really don't know. I'm a bad source of information for stuff the team said to him. I'm not sure Colby's ever mentioned to me five things anybody on the Cardinals has ever taught him about. If I hear anything about anything he does with the Cardinals, it comes from his brothers or his mother. He won't talk to me about any of that stuff because I would take Tony [La Russa]'s side over his side in anything. And Colby knows that. He's actually told me ten times that me and Tony are identical — hard-ass, sarcastic. And so he don't tell me any of that stuff.
I don't want him to tell me anything that goes on. What's said between his coaches and him is his business. Nobody that teaches hitting wants to be second-guessed by somebody's dad. That just sounds horseshit. But in the end, I think he trusts me a little bit. And I think he's really skeptical of other people. Why, I don't know.
I'm not sure I understand the dynamic. You're saying he seeks out your advice, but then he disagrees with it and gets angry, but at the same time he trusts you — and he gets better results when you guys work together.
I'll tell you what I think it is. I think he works hard to make himself good. And if I don't agree with what he's been working on, I think it makes him mad. Because he feels like he's put a lot of time into it. He's working hard on it. So when he does things and tries to get his swing like he feels comfortable with it, it seems to him that I never agree with him. He'll ask me what I think, and we'll get to talking, and then we'll get in an argument because whatever I say he won't agree with. And then after the argument, he'll say, "Well, hey, come work with me on it a little bit." That's kind of the progression of how that goes. It's the same four of five things we always work on. He'll cuss me and throw stuff and fling bats in the net. I think he understands it works. But it just aggravates him to process it.
What are the bad habits he falls into?
I'm not a big leg-kick guy, and he likes that big leg kick. When he takes that knee back, it has to come back to the midsection of his body. I'll say, "Get the knee back to your sack." If his knee goes straight up, that means he'll be out front. If his knee goes back to his sack, his head stays in position.
Now when the knee goes back — what he did last year, his knee would go back, and his hands would go back at the same time, and that's a no-no. When the knee goes back, your hands shouldn't move. Colby's problem is his knee'll go back, his hands'll go back at the same time, so when his knee goes forward, his hands'll leap forward with it. Well, there again, that ball middle-away is going to give him problems, because he's leaping forward already. That's all we work on. When I throw to him, I throw outside-edge, up to a foot off the outside edge. I want him to hit ground balls between short and third, because that's two things he's got to do: let the ball travel and get some top hand on the ball.
In the comments you posted on Brian Walton's [Cardinal Nation] blog in December, you seemed to ridicule that approach. You said the Cardinals just want to turn Colby into a slap hitter like Jon Jay or Skip Schumaker. What was that all about?
I just cut up on some of those places. It's funny to me how crazy some of those people get about all this stuff. I'm not a huge Cardinal fan, and it makes people mad because I don't love the Cardinals. I'm just pulling people's leg, basically. That's probably the best way to put it. And the thing about Cardinal fans is this: They're probably the most passionate that I've ever been around. Really. They love baseball more than oxygen. But you can't joke about anything! And I'm probably more of a prankster kind of guy.
Part of the reason those comments got a reaction is that they play into a perception that's already out there: that Tony La Russa dislikes Colby or dislikes his game.
Do people think Tony's trying to lose? I mean, come on! That don't make any sense. I don't think you need to be a rocket scientist or Rod Carew to know that you gotta work the outside pitch and hit that thing the other way. Personally, I think Tony's trying to get Colby to be a better baseball player. I think Colby started pushing back with some of the things he feels comfortable doing that may not be best for him, but he's comfortable doing them. But to think that Tony doesn't want Colby to be a better baseball player? That's just jabber, in my opinion.
It has been suggested that Colby is viewed within the organization as a [Cardinals player-development executive] Jeff Luhnow project, and that works against him because Luhnow has detractors.
I've heard that a thousand times. And it's probably accurate. Tony's been friends with [former Cardinals general manager] Walt Jocketty for a long time, and Walt Jocketty gets kind of canned, and it kind of appears Luhnow is the person that waved him out — you know, we're all just people. We have feelings. It don't surprise me if Tony looks at Colby and sees a little bit of this new-age baseball being kind of jammed down his throat. That just seems normal to me.
And it's not Colby's fault; don't get me wrong. But if that goes on, it's understandable. You got a new-age kind of thinking coming into an old-school mentality. And not just an old-school guy, but a successful one. Who's been more successful over the years than Tony and Dave [Duncan]?
Colby seemed to have some trouble throwing the ball last year. Was there something wrong with his arm?
Here's the thing about him: If you tell him to not miss that cutoff man, that son of a gun will dribble that thing to the cutoff man. I'd tell him, "Hey, you look like your mama trying to throw! I mean, I'm like embarrassed to even watch it. What's going on?" He'd say, "They told me not to miss that cutoff man. I ain't missing that cutoff man." It pisses me off to no end. I mean, he's got a great arm. But you know what, if you tell him don't miss that cutoff man, he won't miss it. I guaran-damn-tee it.
If you jump on him, he don't pout or cry, but you know what? He'll just shut up. He won't ask you a question, he won't say nothing. He'll take what you told him, and he may not understand a hundred percent what you want him to do, but he'll go to the thousandth power to do it. And be worse because of it.
Is Colby happy? Is he unhappy? What's his emotional state?
I think he's — you talking about — about playing the game? I mean, he loves to play the game.
I mean, does he enjoy what he does? He's a professional baseball player. He's living the dream that so many kids have.
You know what, though? Most of 'em, when they get there, I'm not sure it's what some of them thought it was. There's a lot of work involved in being a pro baseball player. It's such a business. And the other thing about it — I've heard people say this, and it's probably true — it's probably not the best environment for a young kid to come up in, playing for Tony. I mean, it's just not. He is so rigid in a lot of the things he does, it probably takes a lot of the fun out of it for a lot of 'em. And don't get me wrong, it's not supposed to be fun anymore. That's what I try to tell Colby. They're making millions of dollars. The fun's gone, bud. It's all now about performing and putting up numbers. If he puts up numbers and does what he's supposed to do, everybody'll be happy.
I think he's figuring that out as he goes. And that's probably been the hardest thing for him to learn.
Editor's note: For additional coverage, check out More Shit Colby Rasmus' Dad Says on the Daily RFT.