Albert Pujols, you and the St. Louis Cardinals just shocked the baseball world and beat the Texas Rangers in the World Series. You weren’t favored to do so. You weren’t even favored to get out of the first round of the playoffs. Your city, one of the premier baseball cities in America, has been on a high ever since, hoping that high they feel is what you’re feeling. They really thought they knew you and what was important to you. When the Miami rumors were running rampant, they didn’t think you were a South Beach kind of guy, slapping fives with Dwyane Wade and LeBron James. They figured you’d want to continue all the good you’ve done for St. Louis with your organization and charity work. Albert Pujols, what are you going to do? Albert, really? You’re going to Disneyland?
I’m probably a big old hypocrite for writing what I’m about to write because my stance has always been pro player. Athletes have a small window of opportunity to make as much money as they can for their family. It’s why I was on the side of the players during the NBA lockout. It’s why I never really scoff at how much money the athletes are making. You can argue that star athletes are actually underpaid and the middle of the road players are the ones overpaid.
If Albert Pujols made near 15 million dollars last year, he was worth at least twice that much. He’s the face of the franchise. He sells the most jerseys. When the team needs someone to go out on the important public appearances, they don’t call on Skip Schumaker. They call on Albert. It was said that in his last year with the Cleveland Cavs, LeBron James was worth 150 million to the franchise. He was paid 11 million. Now, 11 million is a huge chunk of change and we could all support ourselves for the rest of our lives with that money. But if you’re worth 150 million, shouldn’t you get 150 million or at least decently close to it?
Some will never understand why athletes make millions of dollars while school budgets get cut and teachers have to take less salary or even lose their jobs. That’s definitely part of our unfair world. But what do you and I bring in for our companies? What can our companies sell to customers based on just having us as employees. That’s where it starts and ends in entertainment. Athletes aren’t always super savvy, greatly smart, or even caring individuals. But they have a product to sell and it’s by playing a game that people will pay hundreds and thousands of dollars to watch.
All of that being said, I should be on Team Albert with the rest of the Anaheim Angels fans today, and really, I’m not. This has an A-Rodian stench to me. Alex Rodriguez was always about the highest bidder. There was no other reason to play for the Texas Rangers when he did other than simply to be the highest paid baseball player of all time. No matter where he wanted to play, by all accounts, he signed in Texas simply because they paid him the most. And he hated it. It wasn’t where he wanted to be, and soon if affected him and he was out of there after just three years.
I teach my kids that athletes come and go and you shouldn’t idolize these guys for anything other than what they do in their sports arena. We’re not sure if they are good guys who treat their mothers nicely and take care of their kids. We’d hope. But we don’t have the inside track into how they live their lives like we do with what they do on the court, field, or ice. There are exceptions. If we lived in St. Louis and were Cardinals fans, I could tell my kids that you could look up to someone like Albert Pujols. Of course he’s not perfect as none of us are. But you could point to the things that Albert did, the things that were meaningful to him, that his kids are always close by, and the work that he did with Pujols Family Foundation and say, okay, if you want to look up to an athlete, look up to him. If my kids wore Albert Pujols’ shirts instead of Tim Lincecum and Buster Posey ones, I’m sure this would be devastating for them like it is for all little Cards fans today.
I’ve chatted with Cardinals fans like my friend Daniel Shoptaw who talked about Albert Pujols like you used to talk about baseball players who stayed with teams for their entire careers and became synonymous with their cities like Stan Musial.
Shoptaw put together his thoughts on Pujols leaving and his words hit hard. Albert Pujols leaving St. Louis means there are no more like Cal Ripken Jr. who played his entire career with the Baltimore Orioles or Tony Gwynn who played his with the San Diego Padres. I think we knew that already, but there was a chance that Pujols could do it and set the standard for classy baseball players.
I know, I know. Baseball is a business. This is why you don’t get attached. There’s no loyalty. Throw out all the cliches and all the rationalizations. It’s all true, from a certain point of view.
There’s another point of view, though. A point of view that clings to the hope that maybe things can be different. A point of view that loves the romance of the game and hopes for that to triumph. A point of view that gives a person the benefit of the doubt and believes that he will stay true to those principles.
When that point of view is invalidated, it’s crushing.
I was brought up to understands that sports is a business. As a kid, Sleepy Floyd was my first favorite basketball player. He was traded for Ralph Sampson. My first favorite baseball player was Jack Clark. He was traded to the Cardinals for a bounty of bad players except for Jose Uribe. Joe Montana was my first favorite football player. He was traded to the Kansas City Chiefs for a first round draft pick. I wish there were times that I could point to sports as being more than just a business. If Pujols signed with the Cardinals today instead of the Angels, it would’ve been one of the rare times that I could do that.