When it became clear that the Marlins were serious contenders for the talents of Albert Pujols, and to be more exact, when word spread of what they were offering, I quickly concluded: all the best with the Fish big guy. Nevertheless, upon waking and finding that Pujols was an Angel I was struck with what has become the common currency of the general reaction, that being shock and sadness. In spare moments I've been trying to pin down the nexus of my feelings about all of this. It probably goes without saying that I only try to speak for myself and not characterize the general reaction, although I will delve into that territory just a little.The sadness comes not from what was, but from what might have been. As a Cardinal fan I have lost the opportunity to enjoy the shared success of seeing one of my guys complete the march into the upper echelon of small-Hall standards. Pujols' numbers as a Cardinal are now frozen. When he passes the benchmark milestones he will do so as a Los Angeles Angel of Anaheim.*
*After thinking about it, I find that I would prefer Pujols go into the Hall as an Angel. I support the idea of him getting a little statue next to the other little statues, but I'm not too wild about retiring number 5 when the time comes besides that it would become moot if he goes to the Hall as an Angel unless the Cards change requirements for retiring numbers. Hopefully, my reasons for this will become clearer as you read on.
I was a bit more curious about the shock I felt because I could not track that down as easily. Truly, when the extension failed to materialize before last season, I recognized Pujols' free agent departure as a distinct possibility, although I did give the larger portion of the odds to the Cardinals and did so with a minimal amount of emotional interference. As has been stated, when it became clear that there were other very serious contenders, I did not like what re-signing Pujols would do to the future of the team and a part of me bid him adieu. "Where was all of this surprise coming from," I asked myself.
I think I can speak for everyone who supports the Birds on the Bat that we have come to expect remarkable things from Pujols. By in large, he has delivered on those expectations. When he gave that interview with mlb.com during 2009, he seemed to genuinely believe that there would be no good reason to leave St. Louis for an additional 3-4 million a year. I avoid going into detail in characterizing what he said then, save that any analysis would not shine positively.
I think it was the aura of the Princely Albert Pujols that created the shock I felt upon seeing him agree with the Angels. He went for more money. Is there anything more ordinary than a professional athlete going for more money? The godly and iconic Prince Albert** took the easy, predictable, well trod path. There is a baseness to it. For this reason, he has become a commoner in my mind. He's another great baseball player that plays for some other team in some other league that I don't follow very closely and I don't anticipate that will change much.
**Despite the temptation to do so, there is no reason to believe that Pujols was in a "heavy lies the crown" situation if he stayed in St. Louis. He received the love, respect, and attention when he wanted or warranted it (on the field performance, charitable events, restauranteuring) and was given his privacy when he wanted it (everything else).
The reaction to the Angels' signing has been accompanied with the equally predictable "this is a business" mantra. It is the nature of cliches that they lose most, if not all, of the intended meaning, if ever they had it to begin with. At a later date, I intend to run that particular case through the mental exploration factory to try and come to an understanding as to what it actually means.
For the time being, suffice it to say that, yes, professional athletics is a business, but every business is unique when set next to other examples for comparison. Each has slightly or completely different standards for success. The vulgarity of personal financial profit exists in all, yes. Everyone who utters the "this is a business" credo, with no exceptions that I can find, fails to recognize that each and every business, with the possible exception of finance, has important and deeply meaningful measures of success that don't really have anything to do with financial gain. The "bottom line" is the common denominator of virtually any business, but I think one can rightly paint that as the lowest common denominator, again with the possible exception of the business of finance.
When looking at the business of professional baseball, as has been observed by much smarter people than I, it seems clear that the model is based on specified regions. This is to look at the business end of the game from the perspective of any given franchise, but it also looking at it from the point of view of fans. Sure, there are supporters of any given team, most notably with organizations that cast a wider net than others for various reasons, who owe allegiance to their favorite local nine in contrast to their own personal geographic location, but I can't think of single baseball fan I know, and I know more than a few, whose daily experience of Major League Baseball isn't filtered through the prism of a specific uniform.
Players clearly are a third perspective that contradicts those of a team, or teams, and their respective fan bases. This brings me back to Pujols. It appears clear to me that Pujols has, even by looking at it through the lens of "business," disregarded the team factor and the fan factor, and has sided with what I would consider the lowest common denominator of personal financial gain. The statistical personal glory factor will soldier onward regardless of what uniform he is wearing. It should also be pointed out that the degree of personal financial gain he is going to earn is not a yawning gulf against if he had decided to stay with St. Louis.
In regards to the business of baseball, I would argue that Pujols has made a short-sighted and generally poor decision. For the sake of not very much money relative to the amounts that were being put forth he has sacrificed any number of future gains, monetary or otherwise. This idea is also supported by the damage to his legacy as a baseball player. Was Albert Pujols' decision based on respect by way of financial greed? Yes. Is he greedier than other baseball players or professional athletes in general? No. It is for the reason of the latter that he will not be considered greedy, and perhaps that is the proper opinion. On the other hand, it is a comment on the world we live in when one argues that forsaking team and fans should not be viewed negatively as long as more money is involved. Speaking as a teacher myself, it would be professionally incompetent of me to put that forward as a thesis for the students I attempt to teach.
It is a fair criticism to retroactively view Pujols' comments on the importance of team and fans as disingenuous. In the same vain, the veracity of any future comments to hit those notes can be called into question. There are slight changes in wording that would fix the problem: "It's all about 'team'/'a team'" (as opposed to "the team"). If we view fans as the faceless body that athletes probably and understandably think of them as, then the standard "It's all about the fans" becomes much more versatile and open-ended. Perhaps that is what athletes, including Pujols, mean when they cite "team" and "fans." Maybe it is "team" in the abstract and "fans" as a faceless entity. Neither of those is very palatable either.
However one wants to take what "team" and "fans" mean when it comes from an athlete, Pujols was given a fair chance to transcend the usual blah blah about "teams" and "fans" we hear and never really believe from athletes. To have supported his talk of such by actually reciprocating what was given to him by this team and these fans, he could have elevated himself. He was presented with another opportunity to be exceptional, to be great, to be a small-Hall guy in a way that numbers, rate or counting, do not reflect.
This is Prince Albert. He does exceptional things. When a seemingly sincere opportunity to do so again was proffered, did he take it? No. He went with the lowest common denominator. He became ordinary, common. Is he somehow a bad guy for choosing that path? The answer to that question lies in however sacrosanct one finds monetary gain to be within the larger framework of life. I choose not to directly offer my own thoughts on a response to that question.
If he is still baseball royalty, he is without a loyal court. Coming off a championship season he ruled his subjects who were happy to have his reign. Now, he is just yet another example. I wonder, logically I think, if something along these lines explains the shock that many baseball people and fans who are not a part of the Cardinals' circle felt. While fans of the Birds on the Bat had the effects that comes with the proximity of Pujols doing it for our boys, his exceptional and often timely exploits have obviously been noticed by the baseball world in general. I've read a couple sources quoting the Angels' assistant GM Scott Servais saying after word of Pujols joining his squad came in, it seemed "surreal."
Did the Angels offer Pujols a better chance to win a championship over the next ten years? Given that the Cards won last year and there isn't much of a reason to think they would be significantly worse this year, it is difficult to answer "yes" to that question. We could look at the track records of the respective franchises and factor in the success rate of the current ownership groups and we would then have to answer the question with a "no." Is LA/Anaheim a better baseball town? A better environment in which to play baseball? Please. Did the Cards ownership group offer disrespect with an intentional low ball offer? No. Has the Cardinal fan base in some way given Pujols a reason to move on? Yeah, right.
Did the Angels offer a slightly higher AAV? Yes. I leave it to anyone reading this to ponder the significance of the difference. Did Pujols make a decision that virtually every other professional athlete would have made? Yes. Do exceptional people reach ordinary conclusions on important matters? No, no they don't. Ironically, if we start to wonder if this decision wasn't all about the money sans team and fans, then things get potentially more hurtful. According to Bob Nightengale's article in USAToday where he breaks down the whole process, and allowing for the possibility that he may be in error for one reason or another, it was the Angels who were after Pujols' "heart." Speaking strictly as a Cardinal fan now: ouch. Ouch, man. That is cold, and I don't mean that to be a colloquialism.
The St. Louis Cardinals don't need Albert Pujols. This has been a great tradition since the Gashouse Gang and I anticipate the Birds on the Bat to bag another championship before I shuffle off this mortal coil. There is a twinge, but I can't say that I am full-on bitter about all of this. Mostly I feel that I have learned something about Albert Pujols and I have to be honest in saying I don't have much affinity for what I have found. The shock is gone. The sadness has already dissipated greatly even if the bucket 'o sorrow isn't totally empty. What is left is the lesson. A prince has willingly become a commoner. There is a general sadness in that that will probably never dry up.