Maybe I’m just another naive fan, but once I watch someone play great baseball for the Cardinals over the course of several years, I start to trust them. I believe them when they talk about wanting to stay. I put my faith not only in their abilities, but in their loyalty.
Basically, I’m an idiot.
Of course I’m deeply saddened that the best player in baseball is leaving the Cardinals. I have loved watching Albert Pujols play for the past 11 seasons. Everyone loved just how incredible of a player he was, but I also loved that nobody saw him coming. I loved that he was tough and always played hard. I loved that he was smart about things like base-running. He was the best player we’ve seen in a long time and there will be no filling his shoes. But off the field, he’s tarnished the image I had built up of him in my head.
I guess the “I don’t want to leave St. Louis because it’s such a great baseball town” line fools me every time because St. Louis is a great baseball town. The fans are widespread and loyal to the point of obsession. The franchise leads the National League in World Series titles. Plus there’s Ted Drewes. I bet there’s no Ted Drewes in Anaheim.
But putting my disappointment aside, I just don’t understand Pujols on this one. I know it’s all about the money – I’m not that naive. But once you’ve gone over $200 million for 10 years of work, I don’t get how an extra $20-30 million is worth leaving the team and fans you’ve been with for your entire career. Plus I’m not sure he couldn’t have made up that money by becoming the best player in Cardinals history…but more on that in a minute. Pujols wanted 10 years. We gave him nine, with the option of a 10th. We were willing to pay him millions upon millions upon millions even after he passed into middle age. Somehow that wasn’t enough.
I also think that for Pujols, the desire for the mind-boggling salary was at least a little about respect. In my opinion the Cardinals offer gave him that respect. But more than that, he had an opportunity to become the biggest legend in Cardinals baseball history. Considering Cardinal greats like Ozzie Smith, Lou Brock, Bob Gibson, Red Schoendienst, and of course Stan Musial, that would really have been something to see.
As all good baseball fans do, let’s turn to the statistics to compare the careers of Musial and Pujols (as described in this Post-Dispatch story): if he stuck around, Albert would have most likely passed him in home runs, RBIs, runs scored, and doubles as a Cardinal. He had already beaten him in stolen bases and was tied in National League Most Valuable Player awards.
Of course they played in completely different eras, each with their own advantages and disadvantages, but Pujols had the opportunity to compete in the history books with Stan the Man. A chance like that will probably not come along again in my lifetime. That’s lasting respect that no money can buy. Apparently Pujols is more interested in what that extra $20-30 million can buy. Yet I’d bet that legacy would have netted some serious cash.
There is one other major difference between the two Cardinal greats. Musial, whose current Cardinals salary was $13,500, was offered $125,000 plus a $50,000 signing bonus to join Jorge Pascual’s newly-formed Mexican League. He said no and chose the Cardinals over the money.
It’s Pujols’ choice and he had every right to leave. I’m just disappointed he turned out to be just like everybody else. All I can say is thank God he went to the American league. If he had become a Cub I really think I would have had to take 2012 off.