Albert Pujols may one day be remembered as the greatest right-handed hitter who ever lived. But deep down, on the inside, what drives Pujols is no different than any other big-name player looking to cash in with a massive payday.
That realization came to light Thursday morning, when seemingly out of nowhere, Pujols decided to sign with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim for 10 years and around $250 million. He leaves behind St. Louis, a city that’s embraced him for the better part of a decade, a place where he’s won two World Series and a place where he could have served as king for the rest of his life if he decided to stay.
But he left it all behind — the legacy, the place in history, the statue next to Stan Musial — for an extra $5 million per year.
What’s most shocking isn’t that the best player on the open market signed with the highest bidder. That happens all the time. What is shocking is that to most of us, Albert just seemed different. Pujols has never been a flashy person, more likely to talk about his wife and his faith than he is a new Ferrari. He’s respected the game, and he’s respected the fans of St. Louis.
Until last winter, that is. It was last winter that he reportedly turned down a nine-year, $195 million deal to stay with the Cardinals through retirement. Many of us gave him the benefit of the doubt, that the deal offered wasn’t what was being reported and that eventually, Pujols would sign with the Cardinals to end his career.
And after Pujols persevered through a broken arm this season, hit five homers and drove in 16 runs in the playoffs and celebrated a World Series title in St. Louis, the Hall of Fame story was already written. All Albert needed to do was sign on the dotted line, and the legacy would be complete.
So it seemed that while the Marlins were offering Pujols a 10-year megadeal that the chips were falling into place. Pujols could use such an outlandish offer to get more out of the Cardinals while simultaneously looking like a hero in St. Louis for turning down the cash windfall in Miami. It would only be a matter of time before Pujols had lifelong sponsorships with St. Louis businesses, before he’d be receiving standing ovations for throwing out the first pitch in 2030.
Remember, this is St. Louis. It’s a city with 11 world championships, a baseball history second only to that of the Yankees, champions 27 times over. It’s a city that regards Musial as the greatest ballplayer there was, more so for the great man off the field than the man who swung the bat (he was pretty good at that, too). You would think that after 1,779 games wearing a red Cardinals jersey, Pujols would recognize that St. Louis is a special place, but it was ultimately the green dollar bills that were much more appealing.
Now, rather than a picture-perfect image of Albert, he looks like Manny Ramirez or Alex Rodriguez — unquestionably great players who will sign wherever the money is. Now, the number of fans who will root against him has multiplied at an uncalculable rate. There will be more jokes and questions about his real age, there will be fans praying for some sort of Pujols scandal and there will be millions of folks who take pleasure in seeing the man struggle, just like they do with A-Rod, LeBron James or Albert Haynesworth. Pujols’ contract will be mocked around the country in five years, when a mid-30s Pujols shows drastic decline and fights nagging injuries while still being one of the highest paid players in sports.
Albert brought all of that onto himself, and no matter what he says about why he chose Los Angeles, there should be no doubt that he did it all of it for about 50 million extra dollars.
That doesn’t make Pujols a bad person; it just makes him like everyone else. What makes it so disappointing is that Pujols genuinely seemed to have a real chance to be so much more.