It is a sad day in Cardinal Nation. The face of our our franchise, the iconic Albert Pujols, has left us for the City of Angels and a Carnival Cruiseline’s sailing vessel full of cash.
We are left bereft, lost, confused, and in some cases angry. If you are a lover of Cardinal baseball, or baseball in general, it was an event that was bound to elicit strong emotion. We all deal with emotional situations in different ways and that was never more true of Cardinal Nation. On the internet, on social media, in print, TV and radio, fans have let it be known how they feel about Albert Pujols, the Cardinals, baseball, and life in general. As to be expected the reactions were mixed, from sadness, to relief, to anger, to indifference, to resignation, and everything in between. It has been a heck of a day.
It’s hard for me to quantify what I feel. I am the type of person who tends to reserve judgment on people and events until I know all of the facts. Knowing all the facts in this case, however, is something that is going to be next to impossible. The parties involved are simply not going to give us all the facts. They have no incentive to do so. In Baseball, public perception is everything, and unless all of the parties behaved like saints every single moment of this entire process, there is no way they are going to tell us anything more than what puts them in the best possible light. This statement is not a criticism, it is a realization of the facts of life. We can’t know everything that happened unless the people involved tell us, and they are simply not going to do that. So we are left to speculate and make a judgment based on incomplete information. So be it.
Many fans have already made their judgment. A subset of Cardinals fans see Albert Pujols as the villain in this piece. They believe he is a hypocrite and a liar. Why? They believe this based on statements Pujols made in the past that money is not his top priority and that he wished to remain a Cardinal for life. In an article from February of 2009 on MLB. com Pujols made the following statement:
"“Do I want to be in St. Louis forever? Of course. Because that city has opened the door to me and my family like no other city is ever going to do. I don’t want to go to any other city, but if that time comes I’m pretty sure wherever I go they are going to do the same way–hopefully, open the doors. But I don’t think it’s to be anything compared to St. Louis.People from other teams want to play in St. Louis and they’re jealous that we’re in St. Louis because the fans are unbelievable. So why would you want to leave a place like St. Louis to go somewhere else and $3 or $4 million a year? It’s not about the money. I already got my money. It’s about winning and that’s it. It’s about accomplishing my goal and my goal is to try to win. If this organization shifts the other way, then I have to go the other way.When that time comes, then we’re going to figure it out. And I told you, I’m not going to lie to you. It’s not about the money all the time. It’s about being in a place to win and being in a position to win. If the Cardinals are willing to do that and put a team every year like they have, I’m going to try to work everything out to stay in this town. But if they’re not on the same page of bringing championship caliber to play every year, then it’s time for me to go somewhere else. Where? Somewhere else that I can win.”"
When looked at in a vacuum, these words in 2009 and Albert’s actions today do seem incongruous. Did he lie? Is he being hypocritical? I guess that is for the individual to judge. If Albert had made these statements a month ago, it is arguable that those who call him a hypocrite and a liar are right. However, it is also arguable than in 2009 when Albert made these statements, he meant them, and had every intention to stand by them. Did something happen since then to change his mind? Maybe Albert will tell us someday. More than likely we will never know. That is the problem with making judgments.
What I do know is this. Albert left St. Louis to play for the LA Angels for more money. Was this his primary motivator? Does it matter if it was? Here is my take on it. Many will argue that baseball is just a business and that Albert made a wise business decision. Many will argue that any other person in Albert’s shoes would have done the same thing. I agree with the former. The latter is cynical crap. And that my friends is coming from one of the foremost cynics of all time. The basis for my seemingly contradictory musings is this. I believe that for a very large majority of people, money is the most important motivating factor in their career decisions. I also believe that for others, it is not. I know it isn’t for me. I do not have an issue with people who are motivated solely by money. I do have an issue with people who are motivated solely by money and pretend that they are not. Is Albert one of those people? I cannot definitively say he is, again because of lack of evidence. I can say that I cannot condemn someone who thinks he is. The prior statements that he made coupled with the lack of information that something happened to change his mind is compelling. Is it proof? Absolutely not.
Albert can affect those who believe he is a hypocrite and a liar by explaining why he made the decision that he did. Does he have any responsibility to do this? No he does not. Should he do it? That is for him and his people to decide. I will say this. Albert. if you do decide to explain, please do not say that God told you to take the money. I have been a Christian longer than you have been alive, and in all that time God has never once given me financial advice. If you say God told you to do what you believe is best for your family and you decided that going to play for the Angels was best for your family, THAT I will accept.
One more thing. Some people have suggested that Albert felt disrespected by the Cardinals for not being offered what he believed he deserved and was worth. I sincerely hope that Albert doesn’t feel that his personal worth can only be measured in dollar signs. That would be sad.
As for me and my feelings about all of this. I am certainly disappointed and sad that Albert will no longer be a Cardinal. Though he was never my personal favorite player, no one could have watched him play for 11 years and not be awed by what they saw. I was proud that he was a Cardinal. But I am just as proud of the other Cardinals who remain to play again in 2012. I am excited to see any new Cardinals that may come. I love this team, and this team is far more important than any one player. We will be sad for a while and then we will get past it. Spring Training will come and we will all be excited again to see what the new season brings. All hail the St. Louis Cardinals 2011 World Champions.