Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Pujols Legacy

It's the end of an era. In a bit of news announced today and anticipated by some for years, and by many for days, Albert Pujols has accepted a deal from the Anaheim Angels worth $250 million over 10 years. News of this deal and Albert's decision has left a lot of people with a variety of feelings, thoughts and reactions.

Comparisons are flying around. ARod, Stan Musial and LeBron James are just a few. Whatever the case may be, it is a little confusing to know what motivated Albert throughout this process. For many years, Albert has professed to want to be a Cardinal for life and had also said that it's not all about the money. Was he just playing the game, or was he playing us? It's not impossible to believe that someone's opinions or attitudes might change over 11 years, but a hallmark of Albert had been his consistency and his words matching his actions, both on and off the field.

Another facet to this seemingly complex story is Pujols' agent, Dan Lozano. By one report, Lozano is a total sleezeball, even in the world of agents, were sleeze is a currency. Was Pujols led down a path by the guy who was professionally trying to show him the money? Lozano's wisdom, without the sleeze attribute, has also been called into question by the deal he previously brought Pujols through -- a deal that made little sense from Pujols' perspective, locking him up through his prime at a severe discount to then try to make a deal in his early 30s.

Publicly, Pujols was an enigma in STL. In many ways you couldn't ask for a better franchise player: A family man and Christian, and a man who made efforts for certain charities he championed. On the flipside, Pujols seemed to only show up to the press after games where he was a hero, and seemed to disappear when he was less than stellar. He was also notorious for being critical of the press and not signing autographs for kids. As time wore on, many fans started noticing what they claimed were attitude changes on the field, including arguing with umpires on borderline pitches, not hustling to first and ignoring coaching staff. Maybe these are just the things that people notice in star players, or maybe Pujols didn't like or want the total package of what it means to be a star player in today's game.

From the perspective of the Cardinals brass -- the men who have to run the business side of this game -- it is hard to find fault. The offer on the table from the Cards that Pujols turned down was already a risky proposition that could have over-extended the entire franchise for years. However, I think many thought that the deal was warranted for Albert even though that kind of deal would probably never be offered to attract a free agent. It begs the question then, was there more to this deal for the Cardinals than just money? Was there some benefit from our perspective of keeping Albert a Cardinal for life? For many fans and for this writer, absolutely. There was nothing I wanted more than to give Pujols the chance for being immortalized next to Stan the Man and for in many ways elevating the entire game itself, still smarting from steroids and other problems. For plenty of other fans, though, no way. The deal was too big, and many are glad to see him go. In any case now, it is confusing. Will the Cardinals retire his number? If he enters the HOF, will he wear a halo or a bird? These are questions that most fans didn't want to have to ask.

There is also the question of his age. Albert is 32 in January, so a 10 year deal brings him through his 41st year. This is assuming he is actually 31 now. Many, many people highly doubt this, and with good reason. There is no birth certificate, and there is an unfortunate pattern of some Latino players lying about their age (or even names). If Albert really turns 34 this January, how much could he have left in the tank? His body type is also not the kind that typically ages well, as so many 20+ year players are skinny most of their career, not stocky or fat.

Either way, the first 11 years of Albert's career speak for themselves -- incredible. And he was loved in St. Louis despite all of his short comings. If it is difficult to compare players from different generations, it is impossible to compare the economics of the game now to those of, let's say, Musial's generation. Pujols walks in rarified air so far and is already considered an elite, all-time player. And although the game is a business, it is not only a business. Many are saying how hard it would be to turn down $50+ million, and that would certainly be true for your first 50. But if it is not about the money, and you already have $250+ million for your family, your children and your great-grandchildren, and you play for a team that has given you two rings with a history and tradition that is junior only to the Yankees and that has arguably the best, most loyal fans in baseball, then what is it really about? The darn humidity?

Let us hope the best for dear Albert, at least they wear red in Anaheim. I hope he breaks every record. But if the game is a business, then I have already given him everything he has earned. I will not bad-mouth or boo the man upon his return, but I will not stand to cheer him either. It's not in my contract.


Roller said...

Good post, Rye.

It was certainly shocking this morning, to read the news, that a longtime Cardinal left the team. But we all wish Jeff Luhnow well in his new gig as the Astros GM.

I share your disappointment that Pujols won't be a lifetime Cardinal. That would have been fun for our generation and our kids' generation. Is Derek Jeter the last of the one-town baseball heroes? What kind of affect does that have on the sport? Time will tell, but my guess is not much. I suppose you could ask an Astros fan if they'd rather have Biggio or Bagwell for only half their career and have a WS title instead. Or a Padres fan with Gwynn. Or a Yankees fan with... wait.

I think a lot of Cardinal fans are being pretty rational about this, and I can only imagine that the glow of the WS halo is still shining a little bit. If the Cards had lost two games in September and not made the playoffs, where would we be now? Would TLR have left? Pujols? Would the Cards have tried harder to keep him? Would the fans be more upset.

The answer to all those questions is I don't problaybe.

When you're already a mega-millionaire, is $50 MM more that meaningful? For 99.999999999% of the world, no. But I imagine as a pro-athlete, your mindset eventually molds to those with whom you keep company. The extra money means something, whether it's about respect, more money to give to your charitable foundation, or just plain greed. Who knows.

And maybe it's even more than money. Maybe the Pujols' really hit it off with the only Hispanic owner of a major sports team. Maybe they like the beach, or the California climate, or the California Pizza Kitchen, or the Hispanic community, or the mountains. Of money.

It's going to be weird and a little sad seeing Albert in another uni, but what can you do. As you hinted, I truly think a lot of what we saw this year with him not running hard on the bases had more to do with health than anything else. As others have noted, the Angels will probably regret the deal when all is said and done.

Will the Cards retire Albert's number? Absolutely. The year after Albert retires.

What cap will he where into the HOF? I can't imagine the next 10 years coming close to the last 11 he just had here. I'd be very surprised if it wasn't as a Cardinal.

Pujols the person may have some character flaws, but he's a good man. Pujols the player made the last 11 years of Cardinal baseball perhaps the best ever. I will be part of the many standing O's that Pujols receives when he returns. Standing right alongside Coovo.

Ryan said...

Nice comments, Roller, and funny.

Lots of questions probably won't be answered for awhile if ever. As I am reminding people, there is more to baseball than business. However, as my sister reminded me on the phone, there is more to life than baseball.

I hope for Pujols sake he has made this move because in some way it was best for his family. I hope he does spectacular things with his considerable fortune.

It would be funny if we somehow got Hanley Ramirez on our team. That would solve a lot of problems. Will also be interested to see what Fielder gets now, and from whom. I don't really like the idea of us getting Fielder or Beltran.

Also, I guess I would give Pujols a standing O the first time he comes back, I like that, and then at least I'd feel I'd done everything I could.

G. Smith said...

So, listen guys, I'm just as bummed out that Pujols left St. Louis as anyone, and it's taken me some time to work it out. But I feel like maybe TLATL is taking it a little to far, I mean, just because he's gone doesn't mean there's nothing to blog about anymore. Isn't anything happening that you have opinions about? Can anyone believe the effect Ryan's post about Ron Paul had on his staying power? Who'd believe people just needed a wake-up call to understand how popular a completely un-viable candidate could be? And you know, I'm from nearby Santorum's home town. People here like him so much they don't even smirk when I tell them to google him. Did you know Mitt Romney's putting in an elevator for his cars? Did you see Obama give the Russian guy a political wink and a smile in over an open mic? And the health care law and Scalia's complete failure to ask a relevant question- I'm yearning for some active debate on the health care law! I haven't been called a racist in some time, and I'm just asking for it these days - I'm one of the asshole's that has a facebook picture of me in a hoodie (I don't even wear hoodies, I had to scrounge around in my closet to find one from college - you could get shot wearing something like that around here). And frankly, I really like hearing about what you folks are up to. So Blog On My Friends! Your reader awaits :)

Ryan said...

G! Good to hear from you, one of our most treasured readers.

THere has definitely been a lapse in posts in spite of there not being a lapse of things to talk about. Politics? Race issues? Media incompetency or bias? Baseball?

I hope we can pick up where we left off, if for no other reason than you state, to keep in touch.

Hope you and your fam are doing well...

Coovo said...

G, to be honest, I've had a strong urge to blog over the last few months. But every time I came to our home page I got so happy to see Pujols no longer being a Cardinal, I didn't want to push it down the list of articles.

You've missed some great articles. I had this which discussed cost/benefit analysis of living completely off trail mix. It was a scorcher.

But I hear you G. I think its time to take the paddles to this blog and start gettin' real. Clear!