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.