Albert Pujols: Will He Go into Baseball Heaven as a Cardinal or an Angel?
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Before free agency Albert Pujols more than likely would have been a one-team player for life, so treasured and revered by St. Louis that the only way he might not have remained a Cardinal would have been if he were elected Pope.
And yes, if we’re talking divinity, he has now been elevated to an Angel. In Anaheim he is the answer to the fans' prayers. To owner Arte Moreno, Pujols is his hope for redemption. To manager Mike Scioscia, he's the chance for salvation.
Pujols is already a lock for Cooperstown. He’s in the Hall of Fame even if he were never to come to the plate in another game. But let’s say he continues to put up the same numbers he did in St. Louis for another decade. That would make him indisputably one of the greatest players of all time, no ifs, no ands, no buts.
I know I’m jumping the gun and getting ahead of the horse in the cart I’m riding in but I’ll ask the question anyway. With a sensational career for two teams, when it ends will Pujols want to be remembered as an Angel or a Cardinal?
Why am I asking? Well, in the Hall there’s a room with bronze plaques. And I’ve been there and I’m here to tell you that it is baseball’s Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln Memorials all wrapped into one.
If you are not moved in the presence of this awesome tribute to the game’s greatest players and managers, I feel bad for you and hope your own National Pastime is something one-tenth as exciting.
So, I’m asking my question because on that bronze plaque of a likeness of each Hall of Famer is a cap. Although the plaques tell you which team or teams someone was on, the cap can only have one team’s logo for eternity.
For Albert Pujols, Cardinal or Angel would likely be another tough decision to make about which city should forever be the place where his baseball heart lies. But the shocking truth be told, according to the policy of the Hall of Fame, he doesn’t get to make that decision.
That’s right, years from now when Albert Pujols gets inducted into the Hall of Fame, he will not have the final say about the logo he wants on the cap he wears on his bronze plaque. Maybe some of you already know this. But I’ll bet a lot of you don’t and are thinking, “What the hell?”
Until 2001 the Hall allowed players or managers who had been with more than one team to decide on which logo they wanted on their caps.
Reggie Jackson chose the Yankees over the Athletics even though he won three World Series and his only MVP award with the A’s. The reason: Reggie earned his nickname “Mr. October” when he got his three home runs in that World Series game in the Bronx.
Carlton Fisk chose the Red Sox over the White Sox even though he put up most of his numbers and played longer in Chicago. The reason: Fisk did baseball’s most famous version of the wave when he hit his walk-off blast against the Reds that day in Fenway.
And there are other examples where players chose one team logo for their cap over another for other personal reasons. The feud between George Steinbrenner and Dave Winfield led Winfield to decide to be forever immortalized in Cooperstown as a Padre.
Sparky Anderson was the skipper for the Tigers for twice as long as he managed in Cincinnati but wanted to and went in as a Red. And Nolan Ryan pitched longer for both the Astros and the Angels but picked his last team—the Rangers—to be on the cap on his plaque.
Easily, the most evenhanded decision about which team logo to choose was Catfish Hunter’s when he was inducted. Hunter pitched equally well for both the A’s and the Yankees but, unlike Winfield, didn’t have a problem with Steinbrenner.
In fact Hunter got along with Oakland owner Charlie Finley, too and so, in a diplomatic move worthy of a Secretary of State, he assuaged both of his bosses’ giant egos by electing to enter the Hall with a cap without any logo at all. Yes, in the Hall of Fame Catfish Hunter is the “Man Without a Team”.
But that was then and this is now and for Albert Pujols in the present and the future things are different. When it’s his turn, there will be no guarantee he’ll get to pick his team. That’s because the Hall of Fame took the ultimate decision out of inductees’ hands in 2001 and for what it felt was a necessary reason.
There had been rumors and reports back then that some teams were actually offering money or promises of number retirements and post-playing career employment as a way of getting potential Hall of Fame players to commit to a particular team logo in advance.
Wade Boggs is Exhibit A. Although Boggs has always denied it, stories surfaced in the press that Tampa Bay required him to include a clause in his last contract that he’d request a Devil Rays logo on the cap on his plaque.
So Cooperstown stepped in and changed the rules. Though a player’s wishes would still always be considered, to avoid any chance for temptation and chicanery the Hall ruled it would have the final say about which logo would be emblazoned on what head.
In 2003 Gary Carter became the very first player to have his preference denied or, shall we say, de-CAP-itated. Carter was the outstanding catcher for the Montreal Expos for 12 years and then finished up his career as a New York Met for five seasons where he won his only World Series.
Carter wanted to go in as a Met but the Hall overruled him and he’s in Cooperstown adorned as an Expo.
Wade Boggs eventually encountered a similar fate. He wanted to be depicted wearing a Yankees cap, with whom he had won his World Series but had spent less than half of his career. The Hall overruled him and made him a Red Sox forever, much to his displeasure. Hey, Wade, you could have ended up a Devil Ray.
One thing that you can’t help but notice in that gallery of bronze plaques is how many of the earlier inductees played their entire careers for just a single team.
There are nearly 50 Hall of Famers who did but in recent times only a handful—George Brett, Mike Schmidt, Kirby Puckett, Robin Yount and Tony Gwynn—managed to wear only one uniform for life. Derek Jeter will be the next.
Pujols could have been a lifer in St. Louis but he’s taken his talents elsewhere. It’s understandable and not surprising. If Vince Lombardi were still alive I'm afraid he'd have to amend his "Winning isn't everything..." to "Money isn't everything..." That's just how most of us roll these days.
In fact if Mitt Romney had wanted to bet me $10,000 Pujols would have stayed a Cardinal, unlike Rick Perry, I would have rolled the dice myself on that.
So, what logo will be on Albert’s cap is hopefully something we all won’t know for many more years. But let’s say he does continue to put up the numbers he has until now and adds World Series titles and MVP awards as well...
I have a suggestion for the Hall of Fame. Any way you might consider giving him TWO plaques?
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