Because at the end of day, he is a very smart man and none of what I’m about to say is lost on him. If he reaches free agency, and he might, the big money will be coming at him from New York, Boston, Los Angeles, Chicago and maybe Washington, DC. That, my friends, is important to understand.
1. Albert is not a Celebrity
At least in the big city definition. They want someone who goes out on the town with other like minded celebrities. They want a player, a swinger, an eligible bachelor to fill up the pages of their society pages. And if that play-ah happens to occasionally make a fool of himself, so much better.
Just ask Roger Maris.
OK, you can’t because that very media machine sucked the life right out of one of the best young players of his time. Read Baseball’s Reluctant Hero or go watch 61* just to get an idea of what that was like. They loved Mickey Mantle because he was a celebrity. He was the kind of guy they all wished they could be (not the best player in the game, but far more superficial – they wanted the lifestyle he was living).
By all that I have read, Albert Pujols is a good man. He married his wife, Deirdre, before he became a star, and is still married to her after all of his success. He is very open about his Christianity, and he became a US Citizen in 2007 with a perfect score on the test. Instead of brushing aside Deidre’s child from a previous relationship, he embraces her and has become a spokesman and activist for Down Syndrome.
While we applaud all that Mr. Pujols seems to stand for in the middle part of the United States, this outdated and “square” behavior is just not neo-metropolitan. Oh, heavens no. And to be clear, I am making a distinction between the good men and women that inhabit our large cities and those that try to control the popular culture of those places. We should all stand up and applaud the way Mr. Pujols has carried on in his personal life, but that just doesn’t sell newspapers, magazines, or flashy products for the shallow and self-absorbed.
The one thing they hate most is a boring family man who just goes out and does his job. Day after day after day.
2. It’s never going to be your city, mang
All you need to do is see is this video. This is the post-game interview with Albert Pujols following the 2009 All Star Game. Or, if you prefer, his introduction prior to the game. Yeah, that one still gives me goosebumps.
For one week in July 2009, Albert Pujols was the unofficial Ambassador for Major League Baseball. He was also Citizen number 1 in St. Louis, and the great state of Missouri. The game was played in his city and he was a proud host, and he did it with grace, dignity and class.
Try that in New York.
That’s the city of Babe, Gehrig, DiMaggio, Yogi, the Mick, and now Derek Jeter.
Just ask Alex Rodriguez.
Before Albert, Rodriguez was the best player in baseball. Unlike Jeter, he was an outsider that has come in to play for the Yankees for a large sum of money. He’s not a real Yankee, like Jeter. Just like Roger Maris (yes, history does repeat itself).
Oh, maybe Boston would be better ? Think again. Boston is Ted Williams and Carl Yastrzemski. Trying to make any sort of meaningful connection to the lineage of those two great Red Sox players when half your career is played elsewhere is going to be a challenge.
Oh, well there’s always Los Angeles. Dude, drive down Hollywood Blvd – do you think that city even notices they have two baseball teams ? Lindsay Lohan will make more news shoplifting a bagel from an Einsteins than you will if you hit 5 home runs and drive in 15 runs in a game. Even if it’s Game Seven of the World Series.
Washington DC. *ahem* Beltway baby! There’s no baseball legacy in Washington, DC. They had not one, but two American League teams and let both of them get away. The Nationals ? Heck, most people forget that they once played in Canada.
There is already a strong link established between Stan Musial and Albert Pujols. That’s a once in a lifetime thing, and that is not lost on Mr. Pujols. Need proof – this supposed “deadline for a deal” was moved so that it would not take away from Mr. Musial’s Medal of Honor ceremony at the White House.
3. The big city sports writers will be brutal
Again, ask Alex Rodriguez.
The first time that Albert Pujols runs through a stop sign at third base, the newspapers will come out in full force calling him a hot dog, show off, and other things that are far worse.
How about this (and this is purely for illustrative purposes). The date was September 27, 2009. The Cardinals were playing poorly, and looked to be backing into the playoffs. This is the last game of the year against the Colorado Rockies. With the Rockies leading 4-3, the Cardinals start a rally in the 9th inning.
Julio Lugo leads off with a single. Skip Schumaker hits a weak dribbler that the Rockies can’t turn two, so they take the sure out at first. Lugo, representing the tying run, is in scoring position. Of course, they walk Albert Pujols.
Julio Lugo then aggressively steals third base – talk about old time baseball. Tying run, 90 feet away with less than 2 outs. Brilliant.
Matt Holliday lifts a blooper into right field that Clint Barmes runs out and makes a great catch. Playing it way more aggressively than he should have, Pujols was running like it was going to drop (and a look back over his shoulder should have told him that it was way too close to call – give yourself up if necessary to let the tying run score). When Barmes made the catch, it was a simple flip to first base to complete the game ending double play.
Raise your hand if you remember that ?
Do you have any idea what the headlines would have looked like if Albert played anywhere other than St. Louis ?
Basically, the St. Louis sports media (and bloggers for that matter) pretty much give Albert a pass. In a glass half full approach, it is because we can balance out all that Albert does and give him the occasional pass when he runs through an Oquendo sign or commits a base running blunder that would have gotten Brendan Ryan locked up in solitary confinement.
That’s St. Louis, because that’s the kind of people that we are. Like it or not, we’re just not mean in that way. And we don’t like when our sports writers get snarky. Not one bit.
4. The “current” face of the franchise
And now we get to the real reason – the face of the franchise.
Who’s brand is stronger, Albert Pujols or the St. Louis Cardinals ? No question, it is the Cardinals. It’s Hornsby, Frisch, the Dean’s, Medwick, Red, Musial, Boyer, White, Gibson, Shannon, Brock, Ozzie, Whitey, Willie. It’s 17 NL Pennants, 10 World Series titles.
It is bigger than one person, even if that person is Albert Pujols.
For nearly 50 years, I’ve been a proud member of Cardinals nation. I was a fan of the Cardinals during their great times (60’s, 80’s, 2000’s) and the not-so-great ones (70’s, 90’s). I am also a big fan of Albert Pujols, but I was a Cardinals fan long before he was born. And I’ll be one long after he retires, if I am fortunate enough to live that long.
If Albert does choose to move on, for whatever reasons, there will be a new face of the franchise. Maybe like this guy…..
Albert Pujols may choose to give free agency a test. That’s OK. He’s given us 10 good years of baseball, and in return, we’ve been adoring fans for that same period. Every once in a while, a person needs to test their worth, and there’s nothing wrong with Mr. Pujols doing that. It’s not perfect, but it’s the way the current system is set up.
And there’s another side to all of this as the business analysts generate their profit models with and without Mr. Pujols. We have yet to hear from them, but they are no fools either.