Chris Duncan (1981-2019)

111826-7664054FrFormer St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Chris Duncan passed away yesterday after his second bout with brain cancer. He was 38 years old.

I had the opportunity to meet Chris when he began his professional baseball career with the Johnson City Cardinals in 1999. I was working on a book project on the Cardinals’ minor-league system, visiting each of the six clubs and interviewing players, managers, staff, and fans. The book was never published, though I’ve thought about going back and editing the manuscript and possibly publishing it. Chris was kind enough to talk with me about his experiences as a player. I’d like to share what I wrote about him:

Chris Duncan was one of the Cardinals’ two supplemental picks chosen between the first and second rounds of the 1999 draft as compensation when the Baltimore Orioles signed St. Louis free agent Delino DeShields. The 18-year-old first baseman is also the son of Cardinals pitching coach Dave Duncan, which put even more pressure on him to justify being a high draft pick regardless of his father’s position in the organization.
But having a father who has traveled down the same road had its advantages. “A lot of times when I don’t get hits, I’ll call him and we’ll talk,” he said. “After I get done talking, I always feel better because it always seems like he says the right thing (and) he knows so much about it. He’s been through the same thing; he’s been through the minor leagues and struggled and he’s been through the minor leagues and done well and made it to the big leagues. So he’s always got the right things to say because he’s experienced it all.”

As kids, when Chris and his brother Shelley had the chance to go to work with their father during their summer vacation, it meant spending time with the Oakland Athletics and players such as Mark McGwire, Jose Canseco, and Dennis Eckersley. In fact, he was in the visiting clubhouse at Miami’s Pro Player Stadium traveling with the Cardinals when he received word that he had been drafted by St. Louis. “It was real exciting because I was actually with the team at the time,” he recalled. “That was pretty neat and my dad was there. I was pretty excited.”

The Cardinals hope the six-foot-five Duncan will develop into a left-handed power hitter. He has struggled thus far, batting .220 with four home runs and 21 runs batted in. Like most first-year professionals, he’s had trouble making the transition from metal to wood.
“It’s just a lot harder to get hits when you’re using a wood bat, which is like three ounces heavier than you’re used to,” Chris explained. “The guys are throwing a lot harder (and) a lot better breaking pitches. And not only that, but when you put the ball in play, the guys playing defense are a lot faster and quicker. A lot of balls that maybe in high school would go through for hits, all of a sudden the guys are catching line drives to the outfield that would usually be doubles in high school. It’s just a lot harder getting hits. It’s overall better athletes that are on the field.”