ST LOUIS, MO: Albert Pujols #5 of the St. Louis Cardinals strikes out in the seventh inning during Game Seven of the MLB World Series against the Texas Rangers at Busch Stadium in St Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
All along, Albert Pujols said that he wanted to remain in St. Louis, and then he didn't. Let's talk a little bit about player loyalty and millions of dollars.
Saturday's going to be just another beautiful day in Anaheim, California. I'm guessing. Sunny, without a cloud in the sky, with a whiff of the sea in the breeze, and maybe, just maybe, if you open your ears and close your mouth, you'll be able to hear the distant, jovial screams from the Matterhorn.
Checking Weather.com...yep, yeah, just as I suspected. Sunny, 67, with a zero percent chance of rain. It's a hell of a forecast, and a hell of a regular forecast, which we shouldn't expect to change unless Arte Moreno decides that he wants it to. Arte Moreno controls the weather in Anaheim. It's this whole big thing, I'm surprised you didn't know.
But even if it were crummy outside this Saturday in Anaheim, people would still walk around as if the sun were shining down on their shoulders. Because this Saturday in Anaheim, the Angels will officially introduce Albert Pujols at a press conference. Albert Pujols is already all but officially an Angel; Saturday, we'll have a visual. One of the greatest hitters in baseball history will be draped in Angels white, which would sound a lot more poetic if it were any other color.
Usually, these press conferences can be skipped, or the summaries can be skimmed. Seldom do they reveal much in the way of meaningful insight. The Pujols press conference, however, could be different. One can expect that Pujols will talk about why he signed with the Angels instead of the Marlins or, more significantly, the Cardinals. That's what so many people want to know.
Pujols re-signing with the Cardinals was supposed to be a given. They were the only team he'd ever known. He was an icon, beloved by everybody, and with the team he'd won two World Series, including one just weeks ago. And Pujols had talked so much game over the years about how much he loved St. Louis. There are countless quotes to choose from, but the following example comes from this article, passed along by Andrew Fisher:
"People from other teams want to play in St. Louis and they're jealous that we're in St. Louis because the fans are unbelievable. So why would you want to leave a place like St. Louis to go somewhere else and make $3 or $4 more million a year? It's not about the money. I already got my money. It's about winning and that's it. It's about accomplishing my goal and my goal is to try to win. If this organization shifts the other way then I have to go the other way."
Pujols said that in February 2009. On the one hand, February 2009 was a long time ago. On the other hand, look at that quote. Look at what Pujols said, and how much love he expressed for St. Louis. $3 or $4 more million a year? That's about what the Angels' contract offer promises him over the Cardinals' contract offer. Winning? The Cardinals just won the World Series. Like, they literally just won the World Series. The Cardinals have won the World Series more recently than any other team. And it wasn't a fluke. The Cardinals have been regular participants in the playoffs.
If you examine Pujols' history, it's easy to characterize him as a liar. He said so much about how badly he wanted to remain in St. Louis. St. Louis extended to him not the biggest offer, but a big offer, for nine years with a supposed tenth-year option. Pujols signed for more money somewhere else, with a team in the whole other league. Pujols actually turned down the most money from the Marlins, but the Marlins wouldn't give him a no-trade clause; the Angels would, and did, and so they got their man. You could argue that Pujols showed no loyalty, where he seemed like the sort to be loyal.
From a loyalty standpoint, this looks even worse than Alex Rodriguez. Rodriguez drew the ire of Mariners fans when he bolted Seattle for Texas, but the contract offer he accepted from the Rangers was embarrassingly bigger than the offer made by the M's. Accepting Texas' offer was the sensible decision. Pujols wasn't looking at that kind of difference. The Angels will pay him more than the Cardinals would have, but not by that much. In multimillionaire terms.
I wonder how Cardinals fans are going to respond to Pujols' departure. I wonder how they already have. Emotionally, I'm sure the immediate response was one of betrayal. When Rodriguez returned to Seattle as a Ranger, paper money rained down from the stands, and he was heartily booed. He's still heartily booed to this day. I wonder if Pujols is going to be hated. Or I wonder if fans will understand that, where Rodriguez was 25 when he left Seattle, Pujols will be 32 on opening day. Maybe it stings less when you realize a guy's best days are behind him. Maybe Cardinals fans will understand that Pujols might have done their team a favor.
Loyalty is kind of a weird thing to talk about anyway. We always want players to be loyal to our teams, but are our teams loyal to the players? Maybe if they're good players. Teams so often make business decisions that we shouldn't be surprised or offended when players make business decisions. Pujols presumably felt some loyalty to St. Louis. The value of that loyalty was exceeded by the difference between contract offers. Is that wrong? I want that to be wrong, but I can't convince myself that it is.
Pujols comes out of this looking like a pretty normal free agent, in that he went for the best deal for him. The difference between Pujols and a normal free agent is that Pujols was so good for so long with St. Louis, and he said things like the quote embedded above. But maybe it isn't fair to hold him to those quotes. The problem with dredging up historical quotes is that people are perfectly entitled to change their minds at any point. And with how much authority could Pujols speak about loyalty and free agency before he encountered free agency? You never know what something will be like until it happens.
If you've identified a central point to all this, then congratulations, because I haven't. I'm just sitting here writing. I guess I don't want to say that loyalty doesn't exist in baseball. I'm sure that it does. But loyalty has a value, just like anything else, and that value pales in comparison to the money that gets thrown around for the league's best players. Loyalty as a tiebreaker? Totally. Loyalty trumping a difference of tens of millions of dollars? Pujols looks bad now, from some angles, but his is a pretty easy decision to justify.