DALLAS, Texas — Let me start with this disclaimer: I am a St. Louis Cardinals fan. There I said it. It’s out there. The walls in my office are decked out with newspaper front pages of the Cardinals’ World Series victories and all things Redbird red. As I write this, a banner hangs over my shoulder with the St. Louis Cardinals logo and the 10 dates of their World Series titles (I haven’t taken it to a seamstress yet to get 2011 added. I need to put that on my to-do list.)
I bleed St. Louis Cardinals red.
That said, I am one of the few St. Louis Cardinals fans who is not in mourning after the news that Albert Pujols — the face of our franchise since 2001 — signed a 10-year, $254 million contract with the Los Angeles Angels. The deal is free of deferred money and also has milestone incentives that could fill Pujols’ pockets with as much as $280 million when his contract expires at the age of 41.
I am OK with Pujols trading in Cardinal red for Angel rouge because, well, I think Los Angeles and their general manager Jerry DiPoto made a mistake giving a player at the age of 31 a 10-year contract.
This deal screams quick payoff, long-term stress for the Angels.
The signing of Pujols will give the Halos an automatic boost. The phones will ring off the hook this off-season to purchase season tickets. Pujols No. 5 jersey sales will soar like a rollercoaster at nearby Disneyland. The Angels are now the automatic favorite to win the AL West in 2012, and be considered strong contenders to be in the World Series. The Angels just became the sexiest ticket in the fickle sports market of L.A.
L.A. just traded in Dodger blue for Angel red.
That’s the forecast for life with Pujols for the foreseeable future in 2012, 2013 and maybe a few more years.
What you have to wonder is how will the Angels-Pujols relationship look like in 2018 and beyond? Will Angels’ fans be singing a chorus of “Hallelujah!” when Pujols’ numbers at the plate drop when he hits age 37 and the aches and pains of a long career begin to take their toll? Will they see benefit in paying Pujols’ his big check in the years that his plate appearance dwindle due to nagging injuries, even if there is the DH position that could help him stay healthy at the end of his career? Pujols’ 2011 numbers of .299 BA, 37 HRs, 99 RBIs were the lowest of his career, let’s not forget.
Like a failed marriage, this relationship could end up in a nasty divorce. As the years play out, the Angels could turn into the old guy at the baseball club, wishing they could be in the hunt for the next young superstar, but instead having to go home and sit on the couch with their old, aching and nagging wife, err, I mean franchise centerpiece.
The Cardinals’ offer of 10 years, $220 million also made bad business sense, and this is coming from a man who has a replica World Series championship trophy that his wife made for him after the Cardinals’ most recent World Series title this year to go along with my costume for our work Halloween party. I went to the party as “a World Series champion.”
If the Cardinals would have signed Pujols to their 10-year deal I would have been more upset than I am about Pujols leaving “our team” to go to the Angels.
To have been saddled with paying Pujols $22 million a year in the final years of that deal would have been a major hurdle in fielding a competitive team in the future. The Cardinals would have had more than $40 million per year dedicated to two players, Pujols and Holliday, and both of them would have been playing into the mid to late 30s.
Would I have liked to have seen Pujols sign with St. Louis and “be a Cardinal for life?” Absolutely. There is something about baseball, more than any other sport, that makes its fans yearn for the “good ol’ days,” and root for their team through rose-colored glasses.
We yearn for our 21st century heroes to stay with their teams like Stan Musial did in the 1950s — but let’s not forget Stan Musial never had a chance to test the free agent waters.
For many Cardinal fans it is tough to imagine life without No. 5 at first base, batting third and putting up consistent numbers year after year after year.
It is tough to take out the images of Pujols helping the Cardinals win World Series titles in 2006 and 2011. It’s hard to accept the fact that Pujols will end his career in something other than Cardinal Red.
But, let’s remember, that was the past. This deal was about the future.
This generation, my generation, wanted our own Stan Musial. We wanted to tell our kids about the great No. 5, El Hombre, Albert Pujols, who played his entire career with the birds on the bat logo and loved playing in front of “the greatest fans in baseball.” We wanted to watch, along with Pujols, as they erected a statue of No. 5 next to Stan Musial outside Busch Stadium.
Sure, there could still be a statue of Pujols outside Busch Stadium some day. He deserves one, but it should never be as big as Stan the Man.
No one should ever wear No. 5 again in Cardinal red. Pujols’ jersey number will be retired next to other Cardinal greats, as it should be, once his career is over.
But those celebrations and ceremonies will not be the same. They never are.
Pujols had a chance to cement his legacy in St. Louis as El Hombre for the 21st century generation.
Now, it just goes to prove, that were will only be one “man” who will always be a testament to what it means to be a Cardinal.
And that man goes by the name Stan.
Rick Rogers is a freelance sports writer for Athlon Sports based in Frisco, Texas.