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Will the Cardinals’ young outfielder play every day?

There has been a lot of discussion here and elsewhere about the ongoing Tony La Russa Colby Rasmus saga.

Colby Rasmus (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)Some believe the manager has not adapted to the younger player of today like Rasmus. Others, like former catcher and current team employee Mike Matheny, label La Russa as difficult for many to work for, including veterans, while still praising the skipper.

One apparent issue with Rasmus in 2010 was inconsistency. Like every aspect of the subject, there are multiple dimensions.

The player led his team in strikeouts and went through several periods during which he looked lost at the plate and performed in a sub-par manner in the outfield. The manager moved Rasmus all over the lineup and did not play him every day until the trade issue came to a head in late August.

That trade request was clearly a polarizing issue. Some believed Rasmus was spoiled, lacked toughness and should have remained quiet. Others questioned why the information was aired publicly and wondered why the clubhouse environment fostered by the manager appeared unwelcoming.

It is currently unknown if La Russa and Rasmus will be together as manager and player for the 2011 St. Louis Cardinals, but if so, I wonder if the season previews will read like the following from one decade ago.

I ran across the 2001 Cardinals outlook from Sports Illustrated. Here is what it said about the team’s talented young outfielder, a former first-round selection.

“Is this the year Tony La Russa finally lets xxx xxx play everyday? xxx has averaged only 387 at-bats in his two full major league seasons. At 25, this could be the year xxx lives up to the hype that has followed him for his entire pro career.”

Of course, Mr. X is none other than J.D. Drew, then at the same point in his career as is Rasmus today.

For the record, Rasmus has averaged 469 at-bats over his two seasons to-date and will not turn 25 years of age until next August. Still, I found the ten-year-old comment striking.

Following that quoted article, Drew played three more injury-plagued years with the Cardinals. In Buzz Bissinger’s “Three Nights in August,” La Russa was quoted as questioning Drew’s commitment and passion for the game.

As many Cardinals fans know, Drew was dealt to the Atlanta Braves with one season remaining prior to free agency, in December 2003. Among those going to St. Louis was now-ace Adam Wainwright, a core member of the team ever since 2006.

Will Rasmus become the next Cardinals long-term homegrown star or be cashed out with the hope of acquiring another Wainwright? Time will tell.

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Brian Walton

Brian Walton runs The Cardinal Nation and The Cardinal Nation Blog, covering the St. Louis Cardinals and minor league system.
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