Several years ago, before contract talks had heated up, Albert Pujols told the media that he wanted to be a St. Louis Cardinal for life. Had this happened, he would have cemented himself in history as not only one of the best baseball players ever, but as one of the most loyal as well. But when Pujols decided to leave the Cardinals, he tarnished what matters most: his legacy.
Pujols will never mean as much to the game as he could have had he remained in St. Louis. Loyalty is a rarity in professional sports these days, and by signing with the Angels, Pujols only furthers this sentiment.
Major League Baseball's success as a business has corrupted the game, now more so than ever; greed and selfishness are more prominent traits amongst current players than faithfulness.
But it wasn't always this way.
It used to be common for the best players in baseball to stick with the same organization for their whole careers, even during early part of the free agency era. Craig Biggio, Carl Yastrzemski, Robin Yount, George Brett, Barry Larkin, Tony Gwynn, the list goes on and on.
In an ideal world, professional athletes would approach their jobs like they would have in their youth. As kids, many of us dreamed of playing for our favorite teams. We would lie in bed at night, close our eyes and picture running out of the dugout to the applause of tens of thousands of fans.
We wanted the praise, the fame, the glory.
For most of us, money had no part in these fantasies.
It was this childhood innocence that made baseball so great, the purity, the passion, the appreciation for what really matters. This innocence used to be prominent in the MLB, when the Ernie Banks and Brooks Robinsons of the world took the field every day with big smiles on their faces. They didn't make much money; they played for the love of the game, and they loved the teams they played for.
That's the biggest difference between then and now, today's athletes care about fancy cars, big houses and flat screen TVs. Banks and Robinson would have played for free.
However, it would be unfair assume that every player today lacks a strong sense of loyalty. Chipper Jones, Derek Jeter, Todd Helton and Mariano Rivera have remained faithful to the teams that drafted them, but they belong to an elite group that seems to whither away more and more as time goes on. For this, they deserve our praises.
Perhaps today's athletes aren't to blame for their flawed convictions; maybe they're simply a product of the times. We'll never know if Stan Musial would have made the same decision as Pujols with $250 million dangled in front of him, but what we do know is baseball isn't what he used to be. The more of a business the MLB becomes, the more it changes for the worse.