In 1970 St. Louis Cardinal center fielder Curt Flood became a catalyst for the baseball's free-agent movement by refusing to play for the Philadelphia Phillies, the team he was traded to under the reserve clause. Flood's battle went to the Supreme Court, and although he lost he united a players movement that led to free agency a few years later.
Today St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols is the biggest free agent ever. And recent reports indicate a strong possibility that Pujols will re-sign with the Cardinals due to low interest from other teams. Traditional big spenders like the Yankees and Red Sox have established All-Star first basemen already, and the Cubs and Rangers seem to be more focused on the other (younger, cheaper) free-agent first baseman, Prince Fielder.
Pujols' free agency, which essentially began March 16 after he rejected a $200 million offer from the Cardinals, has me wondering what the parameters are for viable life after free agency—a life where reputation matters alongside the check earned each season. To answer this I give you the sabermetric DORP formula.
(d x ped - tl) x (nt x contract) = DORP
"d" is the player's base dislike
"ped" is the suspicion of performance-enhancing drug use
"tl" is legacy with current team
and "nt" is next team
This equals "DORP," which is dislike over replacement player.
Moving from left to right across the equation, d x ped basically gives you a player's loathing score among fans. This can be lowered if the player's legacy is high (if he plays hard, wins titles, etc.). This number is then multiplied by the next team's score times the size of the contract. So, pretty much no matter how beloved you are, your DORP goes through the roof if you switch teams and sign a monster deal with the Yankees.
A player of average reputation—a Ryan Theriot, for example—would score somewhere around a 1. A Derek Jeter scores high on the left side of the equation and lower on the right side due to playing with the Yankees, a team fans in every other market love to hate.
So, for example, Alex Rodriguez's 2001 signing with the Rangers and subsequent 2004 trade to the Yaknees ensure a ridiculously high DORP. His reputation was tarnished after he signed a huge contract and then demanded a trade a few years later. He was suspected of using performance-enhancing drugs (later confirmed). While with the Mariners he went to no World Series and never went to the postseason with the Rangers. He became widely regarded as a self-centered diva. Then he was traded to the Yankees while Texas picked up roughly a third of his contract. His dislike over replacement player is currently the highest in baseball, meaning he is the most disliked player in baseball.
When Johnny Damon went from Oakland to Boston his DORP went up slightly due to a high contract with a power-hungry team. But when he went from the Red Sox to the Yankees his DORP went through the roof with Boston fans. For years Manny Ramirez sported a high DORP due to high d and ped scores. Rafael Soriano currently has an extremely high d and low tl. The list goes on and on.
The DORP rating applies across all sports. LeBron James was once almost universally loved. He had a very low d score, was under no ped suspicion, and had a great legacy with the Chevaliers. He then ruined his d score with a televised "decision" to go to Miami, a flashy big-market club, for more money than Cleveland could offer. He basically took his hometown team, tore its heart out and dunked on it before it could collapse to the floor. His likability on the left side of the equation has decreased even further after an ill-advised and self-absorbed introduction to the Heat and dismal NBA Finals performance and loss to Dallas. He currently has the highest DORP score in sports.
So, while it's easy to simply say a player chasing after money can ruin a reputation, this really doesn't hold weight. No one really cares if the Yankees offered Jeter far too much money in his declining years. He plays hard, has won multiple championships and is regarded as the modern face of a historic franchise. However, players like Roger Clemens set the standard in terms of high dislike and chasing after money and championships. This has been followed by current players like Hanley Ramirez, Carlos Zambrano, Francisco Rodriguez, and, Jonathan Papelbon.
It's hard to figure out where that line is, but it's not just about the money. No one really blames a player for signing a larger contract. I think it's about setting your current organization back while seeking only improvement for yourself. Rodriguez ultimately ended up playing for a perennial postseason team that could pay his contract and surround him with other superstars. Meanwhile, his prior team took a step back with a contract he obviously had no intention of fulfilling. And, of note, he has since won a World Series, while the Rangers are still trying.
Albert Pujols doesn't strike me in the same way. No player has anything negative to say about him. He is regarded as a true professional and consummate teammate. He has helped the Cardinals win two World Series titles in 10 years. Suspicion of performance-enhancing drugs us remains just that. His name has never been seriously linked in the discussion. He plays the game hard and fair. If he were to move to the Marlins, no doubt fans in St. Louis would be deflated, but I believe they would blame the system that makes loyalty so difficult rather than blaming the player for his lack of loyalty. Also, the Marlins are hardly a universally hated team.
However, if Pujols were to sign with the Cubs, his reputation would surely come under fire since they are the Cardinals most hated rival. In that event, after turning down $200 million from his current team, and signing with the team up Interstate 55, the sellout label becomes a very real possibility.
Pujols has done as much as anyone could ever have asked from him at his current job. Now seeking the best situation possible he may also end up securing a better deal for himself with St. Louis. If the Cubs are interested, certainly this raises the stakes for the Cardinals to pay up.
Unlike Rodriguez, Pujols has nothing but goodwill built up. Rodriguez wants to be liked, yet his actions have made him almost universally disliked. Pujols seems almost exactly the opposite. He doesn't seem to care about popularity or even reputation beyond his teammates. He comes to the park, goes to work, goes home and comes back the next day and does it all over again. He doesn't sell shampoo, or cologne, or shoes, he doesn't talk to reporters when he doesn't want to. He handles himself with an air or professionalism extremely rare in modern sports, and even his contract negotiations have been above the fray.
Personally, I think baseball benefits if Pujols stays in St. Louis, even if the Cardinals have to pay him into his 40s. He is one of the all-time greats and it seems diminishing in some way if he splits a career between two teams. Especially if he goes to a rival. The most revered modern baseball players like Baltimore's Cal Ripken, Jr.—played their entire career, or at least the majority of their careers with one team. That is how the story should go.