JUPITER, Fla. — Jim Edmonds drove a pitch over the right-field wall late last season and began home run trot No. 393.
Somewhere between second and third base at Miller Park on Sept. 21, he took a few awkward steps.
“Something popped,” he said then.
Turns out that was the end of a 17-year major league career.
Two weeks after he agreed to a minor league contract that returned him to the St. Louis Cardinals, Edmonds retired Friday at age 40 because of his injured right Achilles’ tendon.
“Although I feel that I can still play and contribute, the risk of permanent injury is too much for me to chance,” Edmonds said in a statement released by the club. “As much as I regret this announcement, I feel it is for the best.”
Edmonds started last year with Milwaukee and finished with Cincinnati, but was injured and missed the NL playoffs. The eight-time Gold Glove winner came back to the Cardinals on Feb. 4, rejoining the team he played for from 2000-07.
St. Louis team doctors told Edmonds the injury was so severe he would not be medically cleared to play, and that he could hurt himself even more.
“I saw him in early January and I saw that he was a long way away physically — he had to work,” Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said. “I was not optimistic.”
Edmonds was a four-time All-Star, popular with teammates and fans alike for his acrobatic catches and rugged look. When baseball people mentioned “gamers,” his name was always near the top of the list.
Edmonds helped the Cardinals win the 2006 World Series, hitting .257 with 19 homers and 70 RBIs that season.
“Jimmy was amazing out there,” Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols said. “I always said, I don’t think there could be any better center fielder to read the ball better than Jimmy. … He always tried to make everyone around him better. That’s why he won so many Gold Gloves out there.”
Pujols played alongside Edmonds in the outfield early in his career before moving to first base. He credited Edmonds with helping him transition from the minor leagues to the majors.
“He was just an unbelievable clubhouse presence and an unbelievable player — the best center fielder I’ve ever seen,” Cardinals pitcher Chris Carpenter said. “He had that extra level.”
Edmonds spent his first seven seasons in the Angels’ organization before joining the Cardinals. He finished with a .284 average and 1,199 RBIs.
Edmonds, who took the 2009 season and then decided he wanted to play again, hit .276 with 11 homers last year.
“He had an unbelievable career,” Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak said. “He was just a great personality with tremendous baseball talent. He could fill a highlight reel. The impact he had during his tenure here — we won a lot of baseball games. He was a key part of that. His legacy with the St. Louis Cardinals will end up being in line when you think about historic names.”
NOTES: Lance Berkman was among the position players who did report to Cardinals camp on Friday. Berkman signed am $8 million, one-year deal after splitting last season between Houston and the New York Yankees.