Chris Duncan never had a chance

by on July 24, 2009 · 1 comment

If you needed any more evidence to back up our prior assertion that Chris Duncan is one of the more polarizing players of recent Cardinal history, you need only read the wide variety and massive number of St Louis mainstream media pieces, blog posts, and message board threads on the Duncan-Julio Lugo trade.

For every “THANK GOODNESS HE IS GONE” tweet, there is a counterpoint like the great post from Pip over at Fungoes.

As you can surmise from the title of this post, our tendencies lean with Pip, and the fact that Duncan got a bit of a raw deal in St Louis.

Please don’t mistake this for complicity with poor performance.  Duncan was not getting the job done and Tony LaRussa’s insistence on putting a struggling Lil’ Dunc in the lineup on a more regular basis than was warranted did not help matters in this still-developing, still-strange situation/result.

We’re not inconsistent in this regard.  Duncan wasn’t getting it done.  Rick Ankiel still deserves a healthy amount of skepticism, despite his recent surge.  Even rookie Colby Rasmus has really cooled off and could begin to see more days off.  Joe Thurston confounds Cardinal fans.  Todd Wellemeyer has sufficiently located himself within firing range for the wrath of the Cardinal Nation.

It is our opinion that Chris Duncan wasn’t being singled out in terms of fan criticism for poor play.  Where he did differ from other Cardinals that aren’t performing to par, was his relationship to the Cards’ pitching coach, Dave Duncan.  His father.

What a shame.

With all due respect to current Cardinals first-base coach Dave McKay and his son, former Cardinal farm-hand catcher Cody McKay – Chris Duncan was no Cody McKay.

You want to run off at the mouth about nepotism and players who you could argue didn’t belong on a big league roster?  Better foils exist for that disrespectful accusation than Chris Duncan.  See above.  Sorry, Cody.

Duncan really mashed, raked, crushed – whatever term you prefer for “hit well” – during 2006 and the first half of 2007 for the Cardinals.  The guy’s bat was always his biggest asset.  He struggled defensively, but he came up a first baseman who was told to play outfield.  The Cards already have a first baseman.  Nevertheless, Duncan’s bat earned him a call-up and he proved that bat belonged.  It’s not like this kid was a double-digit round pick who the Cardinals brought along just to satisfy his organization-employed father.  Duncan was a first-round pick.  His bat played.

All that being said, it can be argued that the manager and the pitching coach didn’t do Chris any favors by reacting angrily to any suggestion that Dunc the Younger was struggling, or injured, or looked silly in left field.  Their constant overprotection of Chris only fueled the fire of the nay-sayers.

Even Dave Duncan’s comments after the trade about (paraphrasing) “someone wanted to get rid of Chris, and they succeeded” are just unnecessary at this point and only compound the problem.  The elder Duncan is in a position, in a premier league, with a high-profile team, that does not afford him the luxury of being an irrational Little League parent.  If Chris was hurt, fine, we appreciate his wanting to tough it out.  We appreciate that he gave maximum effort.  We can (at least some of us) distinguish between Duncan’s intense desire to succeed and his inability to do so because of injury or lack of defensive acumen.

Let’s make clear again and re-establish that Chris Duncan deserved better in St Louis.  But it seems fair to argue that Dave Duncan didn’t help matters any, because of his and TLR’s attitude about the situation, not because some fans felt they could attack him on the grounds of nepotism.

It’s often unfortunate that the loudest yelling always comes from dissenters and this case is no different.

Duncan is no doubt heading into a better situation with the Boston Red Sox.  Not that the Sox are a better organization, or in a better position to utilize Duncan, or a better position to win a title – no, they provide Dunc with a new start.

The guy has been through so much.  A rare injury leading to a rare surgery that can leave some people having difficulty walking.  Duncan made it back to the bigs.  He hit well in April, then fell off again.  Rumors abound that he is still suffering from the neck injury, and he may never regain the glory days of his 2006 call-up with the Cards.

I still think that the greatest ending to this story would’ve been for GM John Mozeliak to get Brian Cashman on the phone and trade Chris for his brother Shelley Duncan.  What poetic justice that would’ve been.

We’ll still root for Chris Duncan.

Writing about the Cardinals and other loosely associated topics since 2008, I've grown tired of the April run-out only to disappoint Cardinal fans everywhere by mid-May. I do not believe in surrendering free outs.
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