An Essay on Pujols
Geographically, Cardinal Nation cuts across many states. It may be the largest, or second largest group of fans in the country—and today, initially, was a very sad day, as a once in a lifetime player left during free agency to play for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in Los Angeles, located in Anaheim.
I only write this because I have a different analysis than virtually everything else that I’ve read today.
Summing up everything written—it was the money. The Cards offered lots, the Angels offered a lot more. Most people say, if I were in Pujols’ shoes, I would have stayed with the Cardinals, because of the community, the support, the ties of friendship, the charity work—all of that. However, that’s not putting themselves in Pujols’ shoes, that’s putting Pujols in our shoes. We, St. Louisans, the Cardinal nation value, more than anything, family and community. We think that the only variable Pujols could possibly have been thinking was the money. That’s what the pundits have been telling us for many months. But if you watch Pujols play, you know that he is not anything close to a single minded individual. He is aware of everything on the field, and I would imagine he is aware of a great deal off of the field.
Many players try to have a good career, win some rings, make some all-star teams, and if everything goes right, Hall of Fame. Albert Pujols is more than this. Albert Pujols has a legitimate opportunity to be thought of as the greatest, Ruth, Cobb, Gerhig, the greatest baseball player who EVER lived. Few, very few, no one, no other player besides Albert has this opportunity. And because of this unique opportunity, he could not reach that goal in St. Louis.
It’s not about the money. It’s about an objective assessment, that he is getting older, and he needs to make sure he produces numbers like the greatest players. We see park advantages, playing in hitters ballparks like Texas, shooting at 315 feet to left center in Boston, playing in a division with very weak teams who will stay weak, the A’s, the Mariners, the Astros.
He has to play in New York, not the Mets. He has to go to Yankee Stadium and launch fly balls into the jet stream, more home runs, he has to beat the dickens out of the Yankees in all of the three game series from here on out. He has to impress the New York Yankee press. He has to get on the field with Alex Rodriguez and outperform him, beat him out for the MVP. These are the basics, the prerequisites for taking the gold medal as the greatest player ever—and he couldn’t do these things playing for the Cardinals.
As kids we dream of being professional ballplayers, making the clutch play in the World Series, getting into the Hall of Fame. You can accomplish those things in St. Louis. Few, if any, aspire to supplanting Babe Ruth. Perhaps Pujols did, perhaps not. But that is where he finds himself, with the potential to completely rewrite the record books, not just the Cardinal records, but all records. He will get singles and doubles in parks that play big, he will hit home runs in parks that play small. And he will do so in front of the New York press, a press, like it or not, that is the gatekeeper of legends.
It would be nice, after the hurt wears off, if Cardinal Nation could understand this, and hopes he goes into the Hall of Fame wearing the Cardinal Red. I think this last part depends upon whether we really do understand what it’s like to stand in his shoes, to see the opportunity that almost no one else has. If he was our child, we would encourage him to leave St. Louis, to go to one of the coasts, to see how far the talent can go.
In the meantime, the Cardinal history will continue with teams resembling those of the sixties, the Gas House Gang, the teams of the forties. We’ve never had teams based on sluggers, except for the recent teams. We will produce all stars, get more pennants and rings, and play first to third basball. We may even have a player not quite as good, who can stay in St. Louis, and stand with Stan Musial.
But that’s not what we have here. If Albert can go on to be a be Babe Ruth, then we should be happy for him, and hopeful that he can indeed reach that height. It’s a unique situation. He hasn’t turned his back on anyone, not the Cardinals, not St. Louis, not Cardinal Nation. He has just come to the end of the path that leads from St. Louis, and he’s going to try to walk the path that less than a handful of players have walked from the beginning of major league history.