Why Are We Still Talking About Albert Pujols ?

If last year taught us anything, it is that the emotional rollercoaster associated with daily reporting on whether or not a player is going to sign with the Cardinals, or any team,  is no fun.   A lot of energy is spent worrying about something that you have no control over, and in the end it doesn’t matter anyway.

If you want to get your fix on the Cardinals/Pujols situation, just read two articles.

The first is Justin Adams’The Real Reason the Pujols Deal Will Get Done“.  It starts off funny, makes a few good points, gets funny again and then closes with the only reasonable (and inevitable) conclusion.  Nothing is going to change this, and the sooner we come to Justin’s way of thinking, the happier we all will be.    And if he’s wrong, it just doesn’t matter anyway.

The other article you must read is Aaron Hooks’ series “Pujols Week“.  There’s a lot to *ahem* absorb there, so take your time.  The key to the negotiations lies in Aaron’s song.  I have it on good authority that should Albert Pujols fail to sign a contract extension before the start of the season, the stadium audio guys will use it for his walk-up music every day until he finally caves in.   And if he signs elsewhere after this season, the song is a poison pill to make sure he goes to the American League – but not Detroit or Kansas City since we always seem to get them in inter-league play.

There is a historical reference that we can use if you are still needing just a bit of comfort.

After the 1982 World Series, Hall of Fame shortshop Ozzie Smith signed a 3 year deal for $3.6M, making him the highest paid player on the Cardinals roster.  Entering the 1985 season, General Manager Dal Maxvill found himself in a similar situation as John Mozeliak today.  Ozzie Smith was entering the last year of his contract, his trade value was at it’s absolute peak and he had a short window to get Ozzie to sign an extension or he would have to be traded.   And he didn’t want to be known as the GM that let Ozzie get away.

From the Los Angeles Times on March 9, 1985

Shortstop Ozzie Smith, trying to negotiate a new contract with the St. Louis Cardinals, says he is optimistic about reaching an agreement.

Smith is in the final year of a three-year contract that will earn him $1.3 million this year. He is eligible to become a free agent at the end of the season.

Although neither Smith nor his agent, Ed Gottlieb, will talk in specifics, it is believed Smith is seeking a four- or five-year contract worth close to $2 million per season.

Smith would like the situation to be resolved by the end of spring training.

“I think we’ve gotten to the serious stage,” said Smith, a five-time Gold Glove award winner and a four-time All Star. “There is no doubt (that I want to stay). But we realize that everything we want is not always possible. It doesn’t always work out. If it doesn’t, it will not be the first time or the last.

“If the club is sincere about signing me, they will. If not, they won’t.”

Just three days before the season started, Dal Maxvill made a deal with the Philadelphia Phillies for Ivan de Jesus.  De Jesus was two years older than Smith and had been the starting shortstop for the last three years in Philadelphia and five more before that in Chicago.   He was a good hitter and base stealer in Chicago, but had struggled with the Phillies.   There is no question that De Jesus would be a big step down from what we had been getting from Ozzie the last three years, but he was better than the other utility infielders and available minor leaguers the Cardinals had at the time.

This move clearly signaled that the contract negotiations with Ozzie Smith were going poorly.  Or so we thought.

It’s probably a good time to point out that Lance Berkman will be playing the role of Ivan de Jesus in this dramatic recreation of 1985.

There was much doom and gloom around St. Louis after the trade.   The official news was that there wasn’t any news, just that both sides were working towards a deal that they hoped to have in place before the season started.    The season did get under way as planned, on April 9 in New York.   No contract news yet, so Cardinals fans were beginning to prepare for the worst – no more Ozzie Smith.

The two sides continued working out the remaining details and came to terms just a few days later.   On April 15, 1985, just hours before the start of the home opener at Busch Stadium, Dal Maxvill announced that they had reached an agreement with Ozzie Smith, and he signed a 4 year contract extension for $8M.   That would keep Ozzie a Cardinal until the end of the 1989 season, and pay him $2m per year after this season.  Only two other players in the National League were making that kind of money were George Foster in Cincinnati and Mike Schmidt in Philadelphia.

An article from the same Los Angeles Times on April 16, 1985 reads

All-Star shortstop Ozzie Smith became what his agent claimed was baseball’s highest-paid player by signing a four-year contract extension through 1989 with the St. Louis Cardinals on Monday.

“In terms of dollars and cents, it makes him the highest-paid player,” said Ed Gottlieb, the infielder’s agent. Gottlieb said the agreement will pay Smith more than $2 million a year.

“I think the highest contracts are (Philadelphia’s Mike) Schmidt and (the New York Mets’ George) Foster at $2 million,” Gottlieb said. “Ozzie’s contract for the four-year extension is in excess of $2 million.”

Negotiations with Smith had begun in earnest last month, and at one time it appeared likely he would be traded.

“I’m happy and hopefully the organization is happy. It’s a great day,” Smith said. “At one time, it didn’t look good. I have great memories here.”

The 30-year-old Smith was acquired from the San Diego Padres before the 1982 season. He started at shortstop the following season when the Cardinals won the World Series in seven games over the Milwaukee Brewers.

Last year, he batted .257 with 44 RBIs and 35 stolen bases. He is a four-time All-Star. The 5-9, 150-pound switch-hitter had a .238 career batting average coming into the 1985 season.

When the Cards new $2M man took the field in the home opener against Montreal, he had a pretty good game.  He would go 2-3 with a single and a home run.   The home run was off Dan Schatzeder, who was a lefty, so Ozzie was batting right handed.  His first left handed home run would not come for another 6 months.   The Cardinals would win the game 6-1, but the bigger victory was the contract that would keep Smith in St. Louis for most of the decade.    By the time this contract expired, extending it again was merely a formality.   Until the arrival of Tony La Russa.

What can we learn from all of this ?

Smart business men making smart business decisions will often times do them in complete silence.   That’s the way it should be.   Bill De Witt, Jr and John Mozeliak are smart men and will do what is right for their multi-million dollar business.

Just because there is no news doesn’t mean that things aren’t progressing.   And sometimes that progress will hit a few obstacles, but if it is meant to be then it will happen.

Our social media tools give us instant access to information and not all of it is well vetted.  What used to be mature sports writing (Rick Hummel) is now rushed opinion and guesswork (Jon Heyman and Ken Rosenthal).  Fortunately, Cardinals Nation have a few professionals that participate in the social  networks that honor the traditions of Rick Hummel and Bob Broeg, and in doing so don’t add to the emotional rollercoaster as much as  other teams and most of the national media.

You can do what you want, but I’m going to take John Mozeliak at face value when he said that he doesn’t want to conduct the Albert Pujols contract negotiations in public.   That’s how Ozzie’s was carried out, and that’s as it should be.    I’m also going to take Albert Pujols at his word that he would like to remain a Cardinal for the rest of his career.  I can’t believe that his brushes with Stan Musial haven’t made a big impact on Pujols.   There may be a Stand for Albert Day in a couple of decades, who knows.

No, I’m not going to get on the contract extension rollercoaster like many of us did last year with Matt Holliday.   At least this time, we don’t have Scott Boras at the controls.

I look forward to reading a Los Angeles Times article like that one from April 16, 1985, but outlining the details of the new Pujols contract extension.

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2 Responses to Why Are We Still Talking About Albert Pujols ?

  1. Erika says:

    Totally agree with you Bob. The fretting over Matt Holliday drove me batty with worry last winter. I am thankful to hear the Pujols contract negotiations will be carried out with class – much like Albert himself. Avoiding the constant press updates and info leaks may save the sanity of Cardinal Nation this winter. Now, let’s just get the deal done, Mo! =)


    • While the Holliday ordeal generated a lot of discussion on Twitter and the Google Wave, it was absolutely nerve-racking to say the least. And it’s not like we had any power to change it. I’m not going to do that with the Albert Pujols contract extension this year. It will play itself out, and we have plenty of other topics to talk about (like a backup catcher, Brendan Ryan, retooling Colby Rasmus). Yeah, we’ll be just fine 🙂


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