Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Ray of Hope Lankford's Inflated Numbers May Add Up to Postseason Glory

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Ray of Hope Lankford's Inflated Numbers May Add Up to Postseason Glory

Article excerpt

Please, don't try to pin manager Tony La Russa down on naming the most valuable player on his Cardinals ballclub.

"Right now, it would be pretty tough to pick one guy on this team," La Russa said. "You look at what Brian Jordan has done, the impact Ron Gant has had. . . . I'd probably pick 10 guys."

But it's possible that no player has meant more - and no player has enjoyed the success more - than outfielder Ray Lankford.

And not solely because he leads the club in almost every offensive category.

"I just try to go out there and do what I can," Lankford said. "I like to be a leader to a certain extent. But I want to be like Willie McGee: Go out, do my job, go home. I'll leave the glamour and glory to Brian Jordan and Royce Clayton."

He jabbed that needle for the benefit of buddies McGee and Jordan, both sitting within earshot. They quickly teased Lankford right back.

"I just try to be a team ballplayer and not draw attention to myself," Lankford said.

"You already said that!" Jordan shrieked.

Lankford paused and smiled at Jordan. "Really, I mean it," he said.

Lankford has spent his entire professional life collecting paychecks from the Cardinals. He signed with the organization at the age of 20. For him, the Cardinals are family, his home, his people. Sure, that can change quickly. All he needs do is ask friend and former teammate Bernard Gilkey, now with the New York Mets.

Lankford is a Cardinal, though, and that's been frustrating. No current player has worn the uniform longer without reaching the postseason, without experiencing even one September day's hint of a pennant race.

Frustrating for some fans who have considered Lankford's vast talent and wondered why he hasn't garnered a Most Valuable Player trophy by now.

Perhaps the frustration has ended. As the calendar prepares to flip to August, the Cards lead the National League Central Division.

"Since I've been here, around this time of year we're usually about dead last in the standings," Lankford said. "Now that we're winning, it's obvious everyone is more relaxed. Everybody wants to be your friend. And that's great. It shows that when you're playing hard and working hard, you can get these kinds of results."

Lankford never stopped working hard. But he's never produced such results. He has a .292 batting average with 18 homers and 61 RBIs. He's hit the longest home run in the big leagues - 483 feet at Coors Field in Denver - and the longest at Busch Stadium - 468 feet - this season.

He's also scored 69 runs and stolen 20 bases. Having turned 29 less than two months ago, Lankford clearly is on pace for his best statistical season.

If the Cardinals would win a championship and Lankford keeps rolling along, he could collect the MVP votes observers predicted after his splendid 1992 season. …

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