Albert Pujols, erstwhile first baseman and “face of the franchise” for my beloved Cardinals, came to terms on a 10-year, $250+ million contract with the
California Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
In St. Louis, where baseball is king, this is front page news. Mind you, there’s no NFL team to serve as distraction in St. Louis. It’s all Cardinals, all the time. And for months, the prevailing assumption — not only in St. Louis, but throughout the industry — was that Pujols would re-sign with the Cardinals. The stars just seem to align on this one: the Cardinals were comfortable with an 8-9 year pact worth approximately $200-220 million (depending on which report you believe); Pujols’ charity work (The Pujols Family Foundation) and restaurant were both located in St. Louis; and perhaps just as importantly, several of baseball’s larger market clubs had already allocated significant resources to elite-caliber first basemen. With no Yankees or Red Sox to bid against, negotiations were bound to be seamless.
Only, they weren’t. When the two sides couldn’t agree to a contract extension prior to the season, we all started to get a little worried. I guess this is just part of the process, we told ourselves. Come fall, we’ll lock him up. But over the past few weeks, talks between the Cardinals and Pujols’ agent, Dan Lozano, became increasingly tenuous. But when the
Florida Miami Marlins inked southpaw Mark Buehrle to a 4-year, $58 million deal this week, we all breathed a sigh of relief. Good sign for us, I texted a good friend and fellow Card fan. Buehrle to Marlins means we must have something in place with Puj. Then Cardinals GM John Mozeliak canceled his press appearance Wednesday evening…rumors of another team getting involved, possibly the Angels…then rumors of a third “mystery” team making a late run…culminating in Albert’s decision to sign with the Angels.
As a Cardinal fan, I was shocked. I know the whole “business side” of the discussion, so I understand what’s going on here. But deep down, I never thought it would come to this. You have to understand…since I was a little boy, the St. Louis Cardinals have been my team. As much as I like football, my affinity for the Titans and Vols PALES in comparison to my Cards obsession. I listen to nearly every game, starting in early April and culminating — in the best years! — in late October. Our family makes the annual pilgrimage to
Mecca Busch Stadium, decked out in red from head to toe. My son’s room is adorned with all of the Cardinal memorabilia I’ve collected down through the years. They’re my team. Always have been; always will be.
For obvious reasons, Pujols is my son’s favorite player. In tee ball and Little League, he always scrambles to get the #5 jersey. Late in games, you’ll catch Joshua saying, “It’s okay. If Pujols gets to hit again, we’ve got a chance.” The kid loves the Cardinals as much as I do; Stan the Man, Gibby, Ozzie…he knows them all. But Pujols is his favorite. And in this era of performance-enhanced athletes, I’ve been careful about who he looks up to. But I’ve never had any reservation about Pujols, a guy Joshua can look up to both on and off the field.
Albert, you’ve given us 11 great years. Dont’ worry. This isn’t Cleveland. We aren’t going to burn your jersey in the street. Maybe it’s because you delivered — not once, but twice — on bringing a World Series victory to America’s best baseball town. Maybe it’s because you didn’t announce your decision to Jim Gray by saying you were “taking your talents down to Orange County.” More likely, it’s because we know good baseball when we see it. And for 11 years, you gave us some of the best baseball any of us will ever see. For that, we thank you.
Make no mistake…this hurts. In our heart of hearts, we thought you wanted to be here. And I’m sure to a great degree, you did. And in the end, who could blame you for taking the big payout? It’s easy for fans to criticize the “greedy athlete”. That’s not where I’m going with all of this. If the Cardinals’ final offer wasn’t enough, if it was insulting to your pride, then that’s fair. I can live with that. I can even understand it. But deep down, I always wanted to believe that this one might be about something else in addition to the cash. We knew we probably wouldn’t have the highest offer on the table, especially if certain clubs were involved. But in the end, we were hoping that the money would be close enough and that your feelings for us, for the city, for the fans, would be enough to close the gap. And perhaps that’s an unfair expectation we had of you.
But as much as it hurts to see you leave, it doesn’t change the fact that we’ll still be there in our vintage Whitey Herzog jerseys for a mid-June series with the Cubs. We’ll be there cheering every time Skip Schumaker busts his can down the line on a 6-3 groundout. We’ll be there for every Adam Wainwright 12-to-6 curveball; every block in the dirt by Yaddie; every Mike Shannon Mark-Rzepczynski-mispronunciation. And yes, every Matt Holliday fly-ball misadventure…we’ll be there for that, too.
We’ll be there. All 3 million of us. Decked out in red from head to toe.
Yesterday, I picked my son up from school and I asked him the question, “Did you hear about Pujols?”
The first words out of his mouth: “Just tell me he didn’t go to the Cubs.”
Spoken like a true Cards fan.
Thanks for the great run, Albert. We’ll miss you.
But here’s hoping we’ll see you in October!