The Power of Pujols

Special guest post today from Justin Adams, writer and columnist at Intangiball and InsideSTL, on the power of Albert Pujols. The Ryan Howard deal has many worried about Pujols’ situation in St. Louis. Justin shows us why St. Louis can’t afford not to sign Pujols. The story appeared on his sites earlier this year, so I edited only small parts to fit the time frame.

Performance is measured in many ways. In the game of baseball, few measurements escape the archives. Counting the majestic arcs that disappear into the stands is one. RBI, ERA, OBPS…all telling stats. But how does one measure the impact of greatness?

When Matt Holliday trots onto freshly cut grass all season, $120 million richer and with an opportunity to etch his bust into the illustrious history of the St. Louis Cardinals, it’s unlikely we’ll see much expression from the soft-spoken Oklahoma native. But pay close attention and you may see a subtle nod in the direction of first base. A gesture small but loaded. Closing the matters of respect and the debt now owed. The corner of the infielder’s mouth will curl upwards into what you must assume is a smile. The subtle grin of a maestro recognizing the master work he continues to orchestrate. Yet a work that can never truly be done.

The moment will be brief, as the first baseman will promptly lower into what has become his signature crouching position. Like a panther, but stronger. To call this a “defensive” posture would be false. He is beckoning, daring any earthly challenge so bold as to test his resolve. The commitment extends beyond the game. And should you find yourself on his field wearing the same shade of red, you had better understand this debt you’ve taken on.

Albert Pujols is the sun which Cardinal Nation now orbits. Not just a fan base that has shown loyalty and affection to the likes of Bo Hart and Stubby Clapp. He commands the respect of their shrewd and savvy executives. He has the power to peel money from their wads as if through telepathy. In a league of egos as large and monstrous as the walls in Boston, he is heralded by his peers. Even as he repeatedly defers their praise. Like all truly great men, he does not seem to be driven by some underlying selfishness. In fact, from an outside vantage there seems to be little “underlying” anything. He remains the rare celebrity communicating with candor and conviction. Honorable traits further qualified by his sense of community and charity. Though it may be fair to say that wealth and publicity mean less to a man bent on creating something timeless.

Albert Pujols is driven by greatness itself. It burns within him in a manner that defies most of us. As if his entire being remains uninterrupted by the inner dialogue that plagues the rest of us. ESPN playfully satirizes the nickname earned via his remarkably consistent career, “The Machine”. But the word “machine” would imply limitation. He is a luminary. A conduit for the light that flows through all of us, experienced in our own moments of clarity. He is like the rest of us, except without so much mental baggage to shine through. Less baggage = more “moments”. More “moments” = Consistency. It’s the consistency that is so astounding. The light becoming amplified with each extraordinary act.

While there may not be a way to quantify the effects of this, it clearly spills into every corner of the clubhouse, every crevice of the organization. There is no room for Milton Bradley. No place for tantrums on the mound or insubordination. Without saying a word, El Hombre serves notice that if the game’s best player refuses to give away a single at bat, there will be no quarter for the poor play of lesser men. And for the front office it’s been made abundantly clear: hoarding payroll will not be tolerated. The cost of which would be greater than the liability of some .200 hitting stopgap in left field. It would come at the price of a great man’s respect for the organization that he carries.

Which brings us back to Matt Holliday. If you’re the Cardinals, you had to sign him. Even if front office brass didn’t want to sign Matt Holliday, they had to sign him. Because they couldn’t have cried “poor” to you and I, or even to Tony La Russa himself? No. Because anything less than a transparent commitment to winning would be insufficient in the eyes of Pujols. To Pujols, any other way is blasphemous. He would see right through it. Exposed and naked like a hanging curveball. And let’s be honest, if the ball off of Holliday’s gut in L.A. made you nauseous, imagine watching Albert step to the plate in 2012 for another team. Punishing the Cardinals organization with the same thoroughness that he presently carries it. This of course can all be avoided, for in reality he is asking little. Mainly, to not be duped. But make no mistake, he has but to reach down and spin the Earth and he is elsewhere. Having seen what we have seen from this man, there should be no doubt.

The power of Pujols is that there is no falsehood. The message is clear. Honor the game. Play to win. Without excuse, stipulation, or self-imposed limitation. And it is contagious. It has enhanced the message of a fiery, old skipper. It’s made Yadier Molina, perhaps one of the slowest runners to ever grace the base paths, a threat to steal. It’s brought focus to the restless Brendan Ryan, revealing a burgeoning Gold Glove shortstop. And it routinely snatches the sanity from the minds of opposing pitchers. Both short-term (think Oliver Perez), and in some cases much longer (think Brad Lidge).

Yes. They had to sign Matt Holliday. And when they signed him, as if Mozeliak had written it into the contract, he spoke of why he made the deal.

“I think first and foremost, their commitment to winning. That was of huge interest for me.”

Now, they have to sign Pujols. Otherwise, the light will go out on the organization. The sun will go down – and never come back up. The organization needs Pujols. His power has driven them to greatness.

This winter, greatness must be rewarded.

(Special thanks to Justin for the great story. Be sure to check out his coverage of the Cardinals all season on IntangiballInsideSTL, and on Twitter)

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