Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

A Change for Better Cards Lankford Appears to Be Man on a Mission

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

A Change for Better Cards Lankford Appears to Be Man on a Mission

Article excerpt

One comes to the land of strip malls, rental cars and retirement living, looking for something fresh about the 1994 Cardinals.

Sure, Rick Sutcliffe is different. But Sutcliffe is no longer the impact pitcher he might have been five years ago. He will contribute as an accessory, more valuable for his history than his fastball.

Third baseman Todd Zeile is different, but in subtle ways. Zeile has gone back to school - Basic Fielding 101 - and his marks have been acceptable.

No one will be calling him Zamboni, Shop Vac or Jaws. The territory between he and shortstop Ozzie Smith has not narrowed dramatically. But Zeile isn't expected to make 33 errors again.

His defense has been sealed with a Kissell. He is more sure of himself, more polished, more attentive.

No, there is something else. Something remarkable about this baseball team that underwent negligible personnel changes last winter. Something energizing a roster that flirted with a pennant race, but turned into a wallflower in the waning months of the 1993 season.

The something is Ray Lankford. The often-injured, often-quiet, occasionally spectacular and occasionally frustrating Lankford is different.

"He just looks like a different player," manager Joe Torre said. "His body language even says it."

The new Ray Lankford is bold and glossy. There is a ggiddyap to his step and hop in his bat. These are qualities that, for various reasons, never surfaced last season.

Lankford knows it, works on it, smiles about it. But he would rather not talk about it.

"I have it in my head what I have to do to help this ballclub," Lankford said. "It doesn't do any good to talk about `I'm going to do this or that.' I just want to go out and do it."

The vibes are unmistakable. This is a gifted athlete, graced with power and speed. But this is a difficult read. Lankford's roots in urban Los Angeles are hard and raw.

He escaped unharmed, but no one escapes unscarred. The guard remains up. Emotions are suppressed. Trust is not readily given or taken. Intentions and motivations have been often invisible to the naked eye . . . in the past.

There is nothing mysterious about Lankford this spring. …

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