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A Eulogy (of sorts) for Albert Pujols
Goodbye Mr. Pujols...
It's not often that I come on Hubpages to rant, so to speak. But the recent free-agent signing of the great Albert Pujols has stoked a place of my heart that will not be sated without therapy. So for all of you with interest in personal opinion only, this is my say, my choice of therapeutic prose.
A bit of my past:
Growing up in St. Louis was a pleasure in many ways. The times were the '70s and '80s and life, although tinged with change, was relatively peaceful. A huge part of my childhood was occupied playing, watching, and just being a fan of the game of baseball. Unless you've experienced the type of relationship a city and widely-spread community can have with a professional sports franchise, you probably won't understand. But in St. Louis, the baseball Cardinals are often spoken of with religious overtones. St. Louisans love baseball and really love their Cardinals. The rich and interwoven history between fan base and team is truly generational. My passion for the game and my beloved Cardinals stems from my mother and grandmother who instilled in me what it really meant to be a baseball fan and a Cardinal fan in particular.
As an aside, all of you in similar cities such as Chicago, Boston, and New York, well... you know what I mean.
The St. Louis Cardinal History is Storied:
Not to dwell too much on the history of the St. Louis Cardinals, but as a franchise, the Cardinals are 2nd only to the New York Yankees in World Series titles with 11 and unsurpassed in the National League as pennant winners. In short, the birds on the bat is an image that can honestly be viewed as iconic. So in keeping with such an iconic existence, it doesn't take long to discern that St. Louis Cardinal baseball fans are truly fanatic. Their knowledge and respect of the game in my opinion is unsurpassed. Cardinal fans, for the most part, are students of the game and appreciate greatness when witnessed. And such greatness, at least in my lifetime, had not been seen in St. Louis for nearly 50 years; the time period between the retirement of the greatest Cardinal of all-time, Stan Musial, following the 1963 season until the arrival of Mr. Albert Pujols in 2001.
When Albert Pujols arrived a new chapter in Cardinals lore began. (Or so we thought...)
Pujols is a marvel to watch play the game. His statistics over the first 11 years of his career are UNMATCHED! When you step back and look at everything he's accomplished in that time and compare to the true greats of the game (names like Ted Williams, Lou Gehrig, Willie Mays, and even Babe Ruth) he has them ALL BEAT. Albert Pujols, as I've told my children over and over, is truly a ONCE in a generation player at the least. When his career is over and fades into the southern California sunset (God forbid), Pujols may very well be considered the greatest hitter to EVER play the game. Time will tell, however.
This is the type of player Albert Pujols can be. And this is the player who I, in my wildest dreams, never thought would leave the city that so embraced him. If Pujols had retired a Cardinal, his legacy and iconic status would stand in line with the great Musial. That is how much he was revered. But now he is gone. And the vitriolic fallout that has followed is not that surprising.
Baseball fans in St. Louis are a passionate bunch. I consider myself one of them. Albert Pujols clearly established himself as the heir apparent to future Cardinal greatness; leaping over other HOF Cardinal greats such as Bob Gibson, Lou Brock, and Ozzie Smith -- with NO disrespect to those players. But unlike Pujols, they ALL stayed with the franchise and are to this day cherished treasures of Cardinal nation.
But now Mr. Pujols is gone. Never to be seen in Cardinal red again. There will be no #5 warmly retired among other Cardinal greats of the past. No bronze statue proudly standing outside Busch Stadium. No lifetime of respect for the player or the man. No, no, no... The only stories I can tell my children now are how the lure of money and a supposed lack of respect swooned a prideful heart away from those who would have honored him in his latter playing days and beyond. Yes Mr. Pujols, you sold all of that for a few million; which if adjusted for inflation in the southern California economy is basically a wash.
What a shame! A blinding shame!
A time for Eulogy:
So my question to Albert Pujols (like I even have the opportunity to ask) would be this: "Mr. Pujols, if you clearly stated your desire was to stay in St. Louis, and that your next contract would never be about the money, then why did you bolt your lifelong wedding party for a bridesmaid's role in the smog-infested baseball shell of LA?" Really?
Oh, I almost forgot: one more question. "Mr. Pujols, how long did you really consider what you would leave behind in St. Louis?" Because to me, if your pride is as strong as you say, then NO amount of money could EVER buy the enduring respect and legacy you abandoned. It cannot! But as I previously stated, this is my therapy.
Although he'll more than likely never publicly affirm it, I have my inclinations that Pujols has experienced 2nd thoughts after signing his 10-year, $254M deal. Back in St. Louis people are truly hurt and disappointed. Heck, I haven't lived in St. Louis for nearly 20 years but the effect of Pujols' departure lingers within me.
Pujols' decision has come with varied reaction. Some are behaving in truly childish ways, i.e., burning jerseys and having 3-year-old children breaking Pujols Christmas tree ornaments on You Tube. In the long run, though, this is how many of us who respected you much more as a man than a player feel. There is no doubt in my mind you will immerse yourself into the culture and community of Los Angeles like you did in St. Louis. Your charitable work is beyond what most athletes will ever consider or perform. But as a man, there is something to be said about having the respect of your fellow man. Mr. Pujols, you HAD the unwavering respect of the entire city and community of St. Louis and beyond. Cardinal fans believed you when you said you wanted to be a Cardinal for life. We really did. And now all that is done! The level of respect and admiration you swept to the curbs of St. Louis heading to Los Angeles can NEVER be reclaimed. To me, no amount of money can EVER buy that back.
Good luck in Anaheim, Albert. I will honestly miss you with the birds on the bat! No man, however, is greater than the team. When you begin to decline in production, will the fans in Los Angeles be sympathetic? Especially to the tune of $254M? Maybe, but probably not. Why? Because there is no history between Angels fans and you. In the future, maybe. But to the average Angels fan you're on your honeymoon. You are in a sense a commodity regardless of what Mr-really-nice-owner Arte Moreno told you. Moreno is a businessman and if you believe he won't capitalize many times over by having you as an Angel, then, Mr. Pujols, you are more naive than thought.
The bottom line is this: Albert Pujols, you now wear Angels red because you are the greatest baseball player playing the game today. That will not change at least for now. But you are also a marketing tool for a franchise that pales in comparison to the Cardinals and one that must compete with another baseball franchise in the same city!
I certainly hope Mr. Lozano explained all of this to you before you signed the dotted line. My guess, however? He didn't! The opportunity costs would have been less than career-advancing!
Welcome to the land of sunshine, Albert. Shine as bright and as long as you can.
R (Remain an Angel) I.P.