Friday, December 9, 2011

Loyalty, schmoyalty

Albert Pujols had an opportunity to do something exceedingly rare and noble in professional sports, but like the old grey mare, the road less-travelled ain't what it used to be.
Pujols turned down a reported 200 million dollar offer to effectively remain a St. Louis Cardinal for life, which would have allowed the three-time National League MVP to carve a Cal Ripken-esque legacy as one of only a handful of modern day athletic superstars to spend their entire career with the same team.
Pujols certainly can't be faulted for accepting a reported 10 year, 254 million dollar deal with the Los Angeles Angels, and the decision was probably less about the extra 54 million than it was about career and lifestyle considerations. He'll be 32 on Opening Day and will benefit greatly from the American League's designated hitter rule, which gives players of a certain age an opportunity to take a routine break from the wear and tear of playing in the field and still get their every day at bats. On a personal level, as much as St. Louis is a terrific baseball town that had a decade-long love affair with Pujols, there's probably not a Latin American player out there who wouldn't be more in their element living in Southern California versus a Midwest lifestyle.
Baseball players used to spend their entire career with the same team because they had to. Ted Williams, Ernie Banks, Mickey Mantle, Stan Musial and most of the rest of the one-team Hall of Famers were virtual slaves to the reserve clause, which tied them to the same team for life, unless that team decided to trade or sell them. Since the reserve clause was struck down in the mid-1970s, the pendulum has swung completely the other way, and players are de facto hired guns who move from one team to the next with little - if any - consideration for the teams and cities they left behind.
It would have been nice to be able to write a commentary about the eternal bond between Pujols, the Cardinals and St. Louis fans, but honour, loyalty and commitment can't be bought - not even for 200 million dollars.

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