Will Clark is a tempting choice -- his arrival from Baltimore coincided (and it was no coincidence) with the Cardinals' reaching escape velocity in the Central Division after almost falling back to earth in the long stall following McGwire's injury. Since Clark's acquisition, the Birds are flying higher than at any time since 1987 -- a year in which they beat his former team, the Giants, in the NLCS. Or perhaps 1985 is the more apt comparison, when, with eerie propinquity, the Cards won the pennant with the help of another emergency pickup (Cesar Cedeno) subbing spectacularly for an ailing slugger at first (Jack Clark). But Clark's newness will be old news by postseason's end, because he's strictly a rental; next year, Big Mac will reclaim his position at first base, and Clark will be playing elsewhere. So Jim Edmonds, whom we hope to see gliding through the St. Louis outfield grass for all six years of his contract, is the man. Although he's cooled since his red-hot first half, Edmonds continues to deliver in the clutch, and the cumulative numbers (an average that continues to hover near .300, with more than 40 homers and 100 RBIs) certainly exceed all but the most optimistic fans' expectations at the season's outset. And no Cardinal center fielder -- not Willie McGee, not even Curt Flood -- has fielded the position with such smooth elan, such easy athletic grace. Last, and this comes as an especially pleasing surprise given his apparently undeserved rep as a malcontent on the Angels, has any player in recent memory seemed to enjoy himself on the field as much as Edmonds? Edmonds both entertains us -- his at-bats are filled with theatrical moments as he dramatically overreacts to inside pitches or missed swings with jumps, stumbles and skips -- and is clearly entertained by the game, chatting amiably with opposing players, umpires, coaches and teammates, grinning widely when the occasion (a deft sliding catch, an opposite-field lined homer) warrants. He plays, in every best sense of the word.
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