STARRY 'BIRDS Considering its All-Star week -- both for the major leagues and our Triple-A boys -- and considering our home team has been celebrating five years of Redbirds baseball, I felt the time is right to put together the first Redbirds all-time team. (Can four-and-a-half years of baseball qualify as all-time anything?) Hardly the kind of challenge selecting such a club from Yankees or Cardinals history would be. But theyre ours, and Im a selection committee of one . . . so read on.
Catcher: Keith McDonald. Even if he didnt slam his way into the major league record book by hitting home runs in his first two at bats in July 2000, McDonald would be our backstop without much debate. Second only to Stubby Clapp in games played as a Redbird, McDonald is one of only two players to suit up all five years the club has called Memphis home. A steady influence behind the plate as the Redbirds led the Pacific Coast League in ERA in both 1998 and 2000.
First Base: Eduardo Perez. Tonys son had one of the best offensive seasons of this half-decade in 1999 when he hit .320 with 18 homers and 82 RBIs. He was a key contributor for the 2000 PCL champs, drilling 19 more dingers while hitting .292 and offering fans the brightest smile in AutoZone Park. An all-around decent guy. Happy to see him in St. Louis this season after a year in Japan.
Second Base: Stubby Clapp. Who knows if Triple-A operations retire jersey numbers? If any player has ever earned such an honor, its this guy. From backflips to headfirst slides, clutch hits to taking an extra base or two, Stubbys what were all looking for when we fork over the price of a ticket. The clubs all-time leader in virtually every offensive category, Clapps popularity at the Zone is one of those rare records that wont be broken, ever.
Third Base: Louuuuu Lucca. When I recall the Napoleonic Lucca, Ill always picture that delightful belly flop he did across home plate as he scored the winning run in Game 4 of the 2000 PCL semifinals. The finishing touch on a miraculous, two-out comeback that opened the door for an eventual championship. What he lacked in height and big-league talent, Lucca more than made up for with flair . . . and facial hair.
Shortstop: Adam Kennedy. Straight out of the Alan Trammell school of solid, if unspectacular, middle infielders, Kennedy hit .305 in 1998 then a team-leading .327 in 99. His game -- both at the plate and in the field -- sometimes appeared so smooth you had to wonder if the necessary intensity was there. The Anaheim Angels seemed to feel it was, as they gave up Jim Edmonds to acquire Kennedy before the 2000 campaign.
Leftfield: Ernie Young. Im still looking for an explanation as to why this guy isnt a major leaguer. He belted a club-record 35 homers and drove in 98 runs for the 2000 Birds before being called into Olympic duty (where he helped the real Yanks win a gold medal). With 90 major league outfield jobs out there (and at least 60 more on the bench), what is Ernie Young missing? Too bad the Cardinals let him go after re-signing him last winter.
Centerfield: Joe McEwing. Super Joe. Little Mac. Call him what you will, McEwing is the poster boy for minor-league determination. In 1998 -- his seventh season in the bushes -- McEwing hit .354 at Double-A Arkansas before his promotion to Memphis where he put up a .334 average on his way to team player-of-the-year honors. After he was traded to the Mets following a 1999 season as the Cardinals regular second baseman, St. Louis skipper Tony LaRussa asked to have McEwings spikes . . . as the memento of a player who plays the game the way its meant to be played.
Rightfield: Albert Pujols. You say he only played three regular-season games for Memphis? Pujols merits a spot on this team for his 2000 postseason alone. He started the Game 4, season saving rally in the semis against Albuquerque. And, of course, he drilled the 13th-inning, opposite-field tater that won the PCL championship for the Redbirds in AutoZone Parks inaugural season. And hey, if you were lucky enough to see him in a Memphis uniform . . . youll be bragging about it someday at Cooperstown.
Pitcher: Rick Ankiel. Larry Luebbers won more games. So did Bud Smith. But it will be a long time before a hurler delivers the electricity this phenom did as a 19-year-old call-up from Double-A Arkansas in 1999. He struck out 13 Tucson Sidewinders in six innings, 14 Iowa Cubs in another six. Heres hoping the baseball gods repair whatever went wrong with the Cant Miss Kids pitching circuitry.