MLB.com Columnist

Tracy Ringolsby

Holliday OK being an under-the-radar star

Holliday OK being an under-the-radar star

Holliday OK being an under-the-radar star
Cardinals left fielder Matt Holliday is understated and unappreciated.

That is fine with Holliday.

At 32 years old, Holliday has found a comfort zone out of the limelight, even if he is among Major League Baseball's elite offensive players.

Wild Card vs. Nationals

Talk about the candidates for the National League MVP Award, and the names that quickly surface are Buster Posey, cleanup hitter and catcher for the NL West champion Giants, Andrew McCutchen of the Pirates, who finished fourth in the NL Central, and Ryan Braun of the Brewers, the third-place team in the NL Central.

Holliday seemingly is an afterthought, even though he's on a team that came into the season with skeptics wondering how the defending World Series champions could survive without the threat of Albert Pujols in the middle of the lineup. It was Holliday who assumed the heavy load, playing a critical role in the Cards' return to the postseason this year.

Not that it bothers him.

Holliday has found a comfort zone in St. Louis, where he has quietly gone about dispelling the critics who used to write him off as a Coors Field enigma because he spent the first five years of his big league career playing for the Rockies. The last three-plus years in St. Louis, however, have provided a strong answer to those who questioned him.

Among active players, Holliday ranks 30th with 872 RBIs, and he is 34th with 229 home runs. Miguel Cabrera is the only player younger than 32 to rank ahead of him on both lists, and Prince Fielder is the only other player younger than 32 to have more home runs.

In five years with the Rockies, Holliday hit .319 with 128 home runs and 483 RBIs in 2,656 at-bats, a ratio of a home run every 20.75 at-bats, and an RBI every 5.5 at-bats. Since the Cardinals acquired him from Oakland on July 24, 2009, Holliday has hit .308 with 90 home runs and 335 RBIs in 1,876 at-bats, a ratio of a home run every 20.84 at-bats, and an RBI every 5.6 at-bats.

The anomaly was that four months he spent in Oakland, which had acquired Holliday prior to the 2009 season for a package of players that included Carlos Gonzalez and Huston Street. Holliday hit only .286 with 11 home runs and 54 RBIs in 346 at-bats with the A's.

Those 93 games with Oakland, however, served as a wake-up call for Holliday and the stimulus to him signing a seven-year, $120 million contract to remain in St. Louis when he became a free agent after the 2009 season.

Having originally signed with the Rockies when he came out of high school, Holliday admits he didn't realize how special his moments in the Mile High City were until he didn't have them anymore. With free agency pending, and the aura of agent Scott Boras looming, the Rockies traded Holliday to the A's after the 2008 season. At the time, Holliday seemingly welcomed the deal.

Things, however, were very different in Oakland. The A's had a limited fan base, played in a stale environment and were not located near the residential areas where players lived.

Given a new life in St. Louis, wherein the final two months of 2009 he helped the Cards claim an NL Central title, Holliday was adamant about not making the mistake of forcing his way out of town again. He said whatever happened during the course of negotiations was fine, but in the end, he was going to re-sign with St. Louis.

"Things happen for a reason," said Holliday. "Obviously, Oakland was a four-month period where I learned to appreciate certain things I didn't really appreciate regarding facilities, atmosphere you play in, even the lifestyle for my family.

"One thing that is important is to be somewhere that the family is comfortable, where it's not a 45-minute drive to the ballpark. As a player, you want a chance to win year in and year out. As you get older, you learn to prioritize. You understand why things happen."

The A's are back in the postseason this year, their first appearance in six years, the second in the last nine.

Holliday is back, too, his third time in four Octobers with St. Louis, where he has settled into the No. 3 spot in the lineup, having led the Cardinals this year with 102 RBIs while hitting .295 with 27 homers.

There's no hiding the fact it would have been fun if things had turned out differently with Pujols and he had stayed in St. Louis, where for two years and two months, he and Holliday were the focal point of the middle of the Cards' lineup.

That, however, is where maturity enters the picture, and Holliday stays focused on his job, not allowing his thoughts stray to what could have been, but rather focus on the job that has to be done.

"It's easy to think you have to do more, but I know myself now and what I am capable of doing," he said. "I have to narrow my focus. My job when I go up to the plate is simple. My job is get a good pitch and hit it hard, and to keep my focus on each at-bat, not on other things.

"We get in trouble if we get too far ahead of ourselves, if we try and do too much and don't appreciate who were are and what we have."

Holliday stumbled down that road once.

He got a second chance, and has made good on it.

Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.