As I drove through downtown St. Louis on Saturday on I-70 I was tempted to exit and check out Busch Stadium to see if there was a gigantic black bow hanging on the building, a mourning statement for the departure of Albert Pujols via free agency to the Left Coast.
The better side of my nature pondered for a moment if instead there would be a huge sign aimed at Pujols reading, “Thanks for 11 Great Years.”
Nah. I dismissed that right away because passionate sports fans are not so gentle, or in this case forgiving. Turns out my instincts were right on that score. It seems that St. Louis Cardinals fans are a tad bitter about one of the greatest players in franchise history abandoning the gateway arch to the West for the West its own self.
When Pujols accepted a 10-year, $254-million contract to play out the rest of his Major League career with the Angels instead of extending and staying with the only professional organizational he has known, the love faucets turned off. Now, pretty much the way LeBron James became an instant villain when he forsook the Cleveland Cavaliers for the Miami Heat, Pujols is persona non grata in Missouri.
When he was a Cardinal, winning three Most Valuable Player awards and leading St. Louis to a surprise World Series championship this fall, he was Prince Albert. Now the thinking is “Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.” Think I’m exaggerating? They are angry in St. Louis. There have been reports of Pujols jersey burning. In fact, a clergyman made a public appeal asking people to stop and to instead donate their jerseys as clothing for the poor. There are reports that giving to Pujols’ charitable foundation has dropped, too. Sunday, there were 12 letters about Pujols published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch sports page and 11 were anti-Albert.
There is labeling of Pujols as greedy, as someone putting money ahead of home, of jilting the town that loves him for a new trophy wife. Fact is that to play the Pujols high-stakes game it was going to cost any club with serious interest around $200 million.
Before the 2011 season, the Cardinals offered the All-Star first baseman a nine-year, $198-million deal. He turned it down, said he wasn’t going to negotiate during the season, and stuck to his plan as the offer was removed from the table.
Instead, when the season ended Pujols plunged into free agency. He was tactiturn about the teams chasing him or what exactly he was after in terms of cash or amenities. There was a report, dating from last spring, that part of the Cardinals’ deal included piece of team ownership. I didn’t even know that was legal under Major League Baseball rules. That would indeed be the tie that binds.
No matter. Once the free agency period began, the bidding game began anew. I was one of those people (and I don’t live in St. Louis) convinced that the team’s biggest icon this side of Stan Musial was going to remain in the shadow of the arch. Wrong.
Last Tuesday, Pujols accepted the Angels’ entreaties and committed his baseball life to California. The Post-Dispatch followed him to California and cornered him for an explanation.
Some 4,000 Angels supporters showed up to greet Pujols as he slipped on an Angels cap and shirt Saturday. Then Pujols did some talking. He said he was surprised that the Cardinals’ final offer was for five years and $130 million. That is a heap of dough, given that it is about $26 million a year, but the Angels basically were willing to pay the same rate for twice as long to ensure he never had to negotiate another contract during his playing days. Also, the Angels added a 10-year personal services contract to work with the team after Pujols’ retirement.
As if anyone couldn’t live on $26 million a year for five years, but Pujols truly would be set for life–and busy for much of the rest of his life–by choosing the Angels. So he did. He also admitted hitting it off well with Angels owner Arte Moreno and that made him feel particulary warm about the Angels offer and wanted. So there’s Pujols’ side of the story.
Could it be that after he had a so-called off year in 2011, falling shy of .300 and 100 RBIs for the first time the Cardinals worried if Albert would truly be Albert for the lifespan of a contract that zooms well past his 41st birthday and that’s why they threw out only a five-year plan?
Whatever the thinking, it didn’t work. St. Louis is in Pujols’ rear-view mirror and he bought into the Horace Greeley suggestion of “Go West, Young Man.”