ST. LOUIS - OCTOBER 2: Former St. Louis Cardinals player Stan Musial greets Albert Pujols and Jose Oquendo of the St. Louis Cardinals in between innings against the Colorado Rockies at Busch Stadium on October 2 2010 in St. Louis Missouri. The Cardinals beat the Rockies 1-0 in 11 innings. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
Over the past few days, the inevitable Albert Pujols-centric advertising campaign for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim was rolled out. The opening advertisements are billboards around Orange County featuring a photograph of Pujols from the back in that near-perfect follow-through. One of the billboards reads "Big A" and another reads "Now Playing." With the Angels' haloed "A" in each, they are nothing more than your standard professional sports franchise billboards. However, there is a third billboard that reads "El Hombre" that has caused Cardinals fans to stand up and take notice.
As Cardinals fans well know, St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Bernie Miklasz bestowed the nickname on Pujols several years back. As I remember it, Miklasz meant the nickname an homage to Stan "The Man" Musial and Pujols's Dominican roots. Matt Sebek blogged about it yesterday for Joe Sports Fan and pointed out that Pujols had disavowed the Bernie Miklasz-bestowed nickname out of respect for Musial.
Sebek pulls a quote from a Craig Calcaterra-penned Hardball Talk post preserving an interview that has been swallowed up by stltoday.com. However, the quote also survives in full in a pre-2010 blog post by Miklasz that has somehow survived being swallowed up by stltoday.com. Pujols makes his position on the "El Hombre" nickname crystal clear:
I don't want to be called that. There is one man that gets that respect, and that's Stan Musial. He's The Man. He's The Man in St. Louis. And I know 'El Hombre' is The Man in Spanish. But he is The Man. You can call me whatever else you want, but just don't call me El Hombre.
Sam Miller of the Orange County Register is an excellent writer covering the Angels. He authored the ESPN the Magazine piece on the Angels' signing of Pujols and I, for one, consider Cardinals fans lucky to have him on the Pujols beat as the slugger transitions to a new club in a new league. After reading the Sebek piece, Miller did some digging and wrote a post addressing the use of "El Hombre" with Pujols's image on Angels' billboards. Miller reports that the Angels came up with the campaign and Pujols did not have pre-approval:
The billboards were created by the Angels, says Tim Mead, the team’s vice president of communications. They weren’t created in coordination with Pujols. The team gave his agent a courtesy heads-up but didn’t ask for Pujols to sign off on them. The billboards have nothing to do with a change of heart on Pujols’ part, and they’re not about Stan Musial. "This is our ad campaign," Mead says.
Miller also attempts to explain to his west coast readers the media firestorm in St. Louis that has accompanied Pujols leaving the Cardinals for the Angels.
The "El Hombre" billboards have led to a new cycle of Why Hath He Forsaken Me’s in St. Louis. I read a lot about Albert Pujols right now, and I can’t even describe to you how much energy St. Louis spends on Albert Pujols. Imagine St. Louis came and signed away Disneyland and the beach and tacos. All the tacos. All the tacos in Southern California. This is a rough equivalent about how they feel about Albert Pujols.
In so doing, Miller gets the situation only half-right. There is undeniable resentment towards Pujols on the part of Cardinals fans due to him leaving for Anaheim, but categorizing this as "a new cycle of Why Hath He Forsaken Me" is off-base. This isn't so much about Pujols foresaking us as it is about Pujols appearing to foresake Stan Musial, the Hall-of-Famer who is nicknamed "Baseball's Perfect Knight" and "The Greatest Cardinal of Them All" in addition to "The Man."
There is no question that Pujols leaving struck many Cardinals fans at the core of their fandom. The ham-handed public relations campaign initiated by Pujols and his wife after the decision to leave made the situation even worse. With the seemingly hypocritical-in-hindsight statements made by Pujols in the lead-up to his free agency being played on a loop in the St. Louis media as a backdrop, the resurrection of the "El Hombre" nickname to promote Pujols's arrival in Anaheim struck a nerve. Pujols leaving for more money is one thing but for him to then apparently shed the respect for Musial which led him to disavow the "El Hombre" nickname was simply too much.
3,026 games played, 3,630 hits, seven batting titles, three Most Valuable Player awards, a .330/.416/.508/.924 season at age 41, a statue, a Presidential Medal of Freedom, never an autograph request turned down, and always a smile. Despite Musial's greatness as a person and player, as Joe Posnanski writes, The Man seems to be fading from the consciousness of baseball fans.
Musial just played hard and lived decently. He hit five home runs in a doubleheader, and had five hits on five swings in a game. He hit line drives right back at pitchers and then would go to the dugout after the game to make sure those pitchers were all right. He wasn’t perfect, of course, but he didn’t see the harm in letting people believe in something.
And maybe that sort of understated greatness isn’t meant to be shouted from the rooftops. Maybe Musial is just meant to be quietly appreciated. Every so often, even now, you can read an obituary somewhere in American’s heartland, and you will read about someone who "loved Stan Musial." Everyone so often you will meet someone about 55 years old name Stan, and you will know why.
While we may not shout from the rooftops about his greatness, we do celebrate it with a standing ovations and tears in our eyes each time Musial, now 91 years old, is able to make it onto the field at Busch Stadium. Musial is a player that transcends generations, a living legend as revered by Cardinals fans for his conduct off the field as his accomplishments on it. Over the years, it has become clear that no one is more aware of Musial's greatness than Pujols and that is why so many Cardinals fans' knee jerk reaction to the "El Hombre" billboards was one of defensive anger. To us and to Pujols, there is but one "The Man."