Big heart of little Eckstein shows for Cardinals

Published October 28, 2006

ST. LOUIS - There are major reasons the Cardinals are where they are, such as Albert Pujols' muscles, Chris Carpenter's arm, Jim Edmonds' grace.

And David Eckstein's toughness. Barely 5 feet 7 and hardly 165 pounds, school-boy looks and a child's enthusiasm, none of the tools scouts look for and more heart and guts than they can measure.

"I think," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said Friday, "he's the toughest guy I've ever seen."

Eckstein shows it over and over, whether in the field, on the bases or at the plate, where he'll do anything - and everything - he can to help his team. Often, it's the little things. Occasionally, it's some big things, such as in Game 4 on Thursday when he ripped three doubles, knocking in the decisive run in St. Louis' 5-4 victory.

Devil Rays manager Joe Maddon saw it for himself when Eckstein played four seasons for the Angels. And it wasn't just the former Florida Gator's effort, determination and what Maddon called "unparalleled" toughness that impressed him.

"I've always said David was the smartest guy on the field every night, and that included both coaching staffs," Maddon said Friday. "And I've never seen the guy have a bad day. Even if he goes 0-for-4 and makes three errors, he helps you."

And, Maddon said, Eckstein is as good of a guy as there is. "He is so genuine," Maddon said. "He could be out there playing in Sanford, Fla., or he could be in Game 5 of the World Series and he's the same guy. It's so great to watch him do this."

Eckstein is cast as the Little Guy That Could, but Tigers manager Jim Leyland said that is unfair - because Eckstein is better than that. And no less an authority than Rays senior adviser Don Zimmer told him so.

"This guy is a much more talented player than I think is the perception," Leyland said. "This guy is very tough to strike out. He can pop a ball. He never misses a ground ball. They say, well, he doesn't have a strong arm, but everybody is always out. I think what happens is because he's smaller in physical structure, everybody thinks that there's this cute little kid, doesn't have a lot of talent ... plays hard, hustles. You know, believe me, there's a lot more to this guy than that. This guy is a very talented baseball player."