Albert Pujols to the Angels: A Tough Blow for Baseball Purists

Matt GoldbergCorrespondent IDecember 8, 2011

ST. LOUIS, MO - OCTOBER 30: First baseman Albert Pujols of the St. Louis Cardinals waves to the crowd during the World Series victory parade for the franchise's 11th championship on October 30, 2011 in St Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Ed Szczepanski/Getty Images)
Ed Szczepanski/Getty Images

Well, now we know who the mystery team interested in signing Albert Pujols was: the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

Yes, offering 10 years and a reported $254 million with a no-trade clause can buy a franchise the services of the consensus best player in the game. Whether they will get good value from this blockbuster move (let alone the signing of former Texas Rangers quasi-ace C.J. Wilson) remains to be seen. A veteran of 11 incredible seasons, with production on a par with the greatest hitters that Major League Baseball has ever produced, Pujols will turn 32 next month.

So, why is this a tough blow for baseball purists?

It is not a shock that baseball is a huge business for teams, players and agents alike—there is no need to have to explain this to anyone who has been watching our national pastime within the last 50 years or so, and maybe longer. To decry greed and overspending in pro sports is akin to whining about how the sun sets in the west each night.

Despite that rather obvious point, one could still be shocked about the length of years that was guaranteed to Pujols. The man, known as El Hombre or The Machine, has seen his stats descend just a little from his singular summit the last two seasons. But, barring injuries or a decline in his famously strong work ethic, it is hard to imagine baseball's most feared hitter being anything less than a top producer for at least the next six years. The Angels, apparently, have calculated what his overall worth will be to the franchise, even if The Machine falls even further to earth.

A quick look at Pujols' career stats show just how dominant a player he has been. He ranks first among active players in batting average (.328), OPS (1.037), slugging average (.617) and intentional walks (251). He hits in the postseason, is one of the best defensive first basemen in the game (if not the best) and runs the bases surprisingly well and aggressively. And yes, he strikes out less frequently then a lot of slap hitters.

There is no doubt that Albert has been that good. In his 11 seasons, he has been voted National League MVP three times, been runner-up four times, finished third once and also finished fourth, fifth and ninth. Yes, he has been a major factor in the MVP race in each of his 11 seasons.

Pujols has never been linked to any off-the-field scandals, is renowned for his charity work and has dodged any educated whispers about possible use of performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs).

For all of the above reasons, King Albert should be celebrated as the greatest player in the game. He also is on many baseball pundits' short list of the best first basemen to ever play (many have him ranked just behind Lou Gehrig) and best right-handed hitters (he's right there with Rogers Hornsby, Willie Mays and Henry Aaron).

Pujols should be celebrated as such. He also should still be in Saint Louis.

Perhaps, this is more of a romantic, idealized baseball notion than a stinging criticism of either Pujols or Cardinals ownership. Apparently, the Cardinals went almost as high as the Angels did, but almost as high just did not get the job done.

Pujols could be chided for not according his franchise a—I hate this expression—home team discount. To others, the Cardinals can be skewered for letting their franchise player move out west. Not being part of the negotiations that preceded the 2011 season or those that heated up during the winter meetings, it is hard to know who to fault.

Perhaps, nobody is at fault, but my purist's heart has been broken. Albert seemed to be more than just about accepting the biggest paycheck, and the love affair between St. Louis and Pujols seemed like it would win the day. As a baseball fan, it is hard to envision Pujols chasing and breaking some of the game's most cherished records in anything other than a Cardinals uniform.

In an ideal world, Albert should have had a tearful retirement celebration at Busch Stadium in eight or nine years, and the ageless Stan "The Man" Musial (now 91 years young) should have been there to take a victory lap with him.

The baseball world won't get to see that, and we also will have to acclimate ourselves to seeing Pujols bashing home runs No. 500, 600 and beyond without that iconic Cardinals logo on his chest. As a baseball fan, that kind of stinks.

Not many Hall of Fame-caliber players play their full career with only one team, and baseball fans should take time to celebrate the few that will probably achieve that. Whether one likes, loves or detests the New York Yankees, they figure to have two such players in Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera. Chipper Jones should accomplish the same with the Atlanta Braves, and Todd Helton and, perhaps, Paul Konerko are other one-team candidates that come to mind.

The last 10 one-team MLB players who were inducted into Cooperstown based on their playing career were Johnny Bench, Carl Yastrzemski, Jim Palmer, Mike Schmidt, George Brett, Robin Yount, Bill Mazeroski, Kirby Puckett, Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken, Jr. That's a great list, but they collectively comprise only 10 of 50 players who were inducted during that time frame.

One would have thought and expected that Albert Pujols, the greatest player of his generation, would join that list in 15 or so years.

Ah, I'm not even a Cardinals fan, but I so wanted to see that victory lap and embrace of the two greatest Cardinals of them all—The Man and El Hombre.

As a lifelong baseball fan, it still hurts to have these baseball dreams crushed, and these "man-cry" moments denied.

Perhaps, I should know better, but where is the fun in being cynical?


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