First I'd like to quickly introduce myself. My name is Jeff Miller, and I'm a life-long Cardinal fan. I've spent the last two years teaching high school Ethics and Literature in Denver, and in a few weeks I'm moving back to St. Louis to take a job as a corporate leadership consultant. I'm looking forward to not having to follow the Cardinals on MLB.com Gameday feeds anymore. Meanwhile, I'm training my Nebraskan wife, Betsy, in the ways of Cardinal fandom, and we're expecting our first child in November. I'm a longtime reader, first time poster on Viva El Birdos.
I should note that, while I deeply admire the work of the sabremetric analysts, I do not count myself among them. Don't get me wrong, I believe in the information that their analysis provides. But I'm not skilled in delivering it myself, beyond stating the obvious ("Yes, I agree that Jon Jay's value this year is heavily dependent on BABIP, and he is likely to regress somewhat"). My enjoyment of baseball comes from the story a baseball team tells over the course of a season--the story which, to be sure, sabremetric numbers help us understand. Today, I want to start with a post that addresses not the story being told by our St. Louis Cardinals, but the continuing story of one of our former favorite protagonists, Albert Pujols.
Schadenfreude is a German word which refers to "satisfaction or pleasure felt at someone else's misfortune". It is the only way to describe the reaction I've had to Albert Pujols early season struggles. It appears possible that those early season struggles are starting to come to an end, with a couple of home runs in the past couple days, which of course means that I'm feeling the converse of Schadenfreude--a certain unhappiness over his progress. It makes no rational sense after faithfully rooting for him for eleven years, since he moved on to a team whose prosperity would represent no real threat to the Cardinals. My reflections on the reason for my attitude after the jump.1. I want the Cardinals to be right about not signing him. Knowing the reality of the Cardinals future payroll projections, most of us never thought it would be a good idea to break the bank on Albert Pujols to the extent that it would jeopardize the Cardinals future ability to put together a winning team. It was always a risk, though, that the Cardinals would find Albert's lineup production irreplaceable for the first few years after his departure. Over the past month and a half, though, it looked like we'd never miss him. John Mozeliak was the genius. Jerry Dipoto was the buffoon. And I so enjoyed hearing Karl Ravech say things like, "It appears the St. Louis Cardinals aren't skipping a beat without Albert Pujol's bat in their lineup."
However, the Cardinals intelligence in not matching the Angels offer is far from contingent on Pujols having a horrible season. Albert could have a Barry Bonds cir. 2001-esque season, and I don't think it would have been the best move for the Cardinals to sign him for 10-years, $240 million. The wisdom behind showing restraint in their offers to Pujols conceded the likelihood of strong seasons for the first years of the contract. I still think the Cardinals decision was the right one--and it would have been no matter how Pujols performed this season.
2. His ego is annoying. Once I wore my Albert Pujols t-shirt during a pickup football game. The shirt got slightly torn, and I was pretty sure Albert Pujols got personally offended with me. That's just the way it is with Pujols. I certainly don't know him personally, and I can't speak to his true personality and character--but his public persona certainly shows every indication of a fragile-but-boat-sized ego. Every reporter asking a question about a slump was treated as a critic. At times, he behaved like John Malkovich in the old SNL "You Mock Me!" sketch. It became tiresome, but it was forgivable when he wore the Birds on the Bat. Perhaps his relocation to Anaheim has helped me see him for what he really is: a prima donna.
3. Or, perhaps most prominently, a lot of us just have a predilection for Schadenfreude. If it wasn't Albert Pujols, it would be someone else. I have about three teams in professional sports that I root for--most of the rest of the time when I watch sports I'm rooting against someone. The Yankees. The Miami Heat. The New England Patriots. Nyger Morgan. Johnny Cueto. If the best part of the final day of the 2011 season was the Cardinals getting into the playoffs, the second best part was watching the Red Sox fans in Baltimore seeing their collapse end in tragedy.
This isn't something that I like about myself. But I don't think its a phenomenon nearly limited to myself--or limited to sports. I'm not a follower of Celebrity News, but my understanding is that its an industry built around enjoying the misfortunes of famous people.
Every rational part off me says that there's absolutely no reason for me to revel in Pujols' misfortune. He was a huge part of 2 World Championships, and a lot of awesome seasons. He's responsible for some of my most pleasant sports memories from my youth. He's given millions of dollars to help take care of special needs children.
And yet, I still smile when I watch him pull a weak ground ball to the shortstop.
How about you, a month and a half into the season, are you able to recognize all that Albert has meant to Cardinals fans and wish him well, or do you find yourself enjoying Albert Pujols Schadenfreude? And, if the latter, why?