Most of us who have been out of high school or college for at least ten years have been to them.
After all, reunions are oftentimes the only chance to see people that were – once upon a time – very much a part of your life. I know that’s the case at the high school class reunions that I have attended.
Unlike the ten-year get back together increments at the old alma mater, it has only been two seasons since Albert Pujols ruled St. Louis as a member of the Cardinals’ Mount Olympus that also includes legends like Bob Gibson, Curt Flood, and Stan Musial.
Indeed, a Cardinal Mount Rushmore would definitely include Pujols as he spent 11 years as an indelible institution in that midwestern city, and not just on the field as he batted .328 with 445 home runs and 1,329 runs batted in, winning three Most Valuable Player awards and leading the Cards to World Series titles in 2006 and 2011; his charity work, Christian faith, and all-around humility, not to mention being a model citizen without any drug scandals or arrests, made him an seemingly irreplaceable part of St. Louis.
At least until Angels owner Arte Moreno made Pujols an offer he couldn’t refuse in December of 2011, beating the Cardinals’ ten-year, $200 million offer with a ten-year, $240 million dollar deal to come to Orange County.
So one can imagine the feelings that both Pujols and his former Cardinal teammates had as they met for the first time since his departure from St. Louis on July 2nd at Angel Stadium; Pujols himself called it “weird” to see his old friends while wearing a different uniform from them.
I reckon that except for when they played the game – Pujols went 0-for-3 with two strikeouts and a walk in the Angels’ 6-1 win – it felt like a high school reunion.
What was prominent to me in all of this is something that fans may know deep down, but don’t say out loud:
That professional sports – Major League Baseball in this particular case – is just as much a business as it is a game.
This cold, hard fact especially came into play when Pujols said adieu to the Cardinals and signed with the Angels, undoubtedly causing the fans in St. Louis who loved him so to feel extremely hurt and betrayed and to charge him with greed.
On the other hand, considering that Pujols’ numbers in Anaheim, while they may be okay for some players, have not approached his dominance while a Cardinal – he had a terrible start in 2012 and though he managed to end that season batting .285 with 30 homers and 105 RBI’s, he’s currently at .247 in 2013 as of this writing – perhaps the brass in St. Louis were onto something.
With his left heel being in pain from plantar fasciitis, Pujols has essentially been playing on one foot this season, which is the big factor in his numbers going down.
Maybe the Cardinals, in addition to feeling that $240 million was not worth it, felt that Pujols couldn’t keep up his dominating performance forever; that sooner or later, like all athletes, he would start to decline, which in a sense is what we are seeing now as plantar fasciitis is a condition that requires much rest.
Also, although Pujols wanted to stay in St. Louis, he most likely realized that playing in the American League would be better for him in the long run because of the designated hitter, which is where he has appeared for 50 of the Angels’ 84 games to date and, with his foot, figures to spend more and more time as the years go by.
This Hall of Fame-deserving slugger may – or may not – regain his form and be a devastating force that singlehandedly leads the Halos to the World Series, but one thing that people should take from this tale…
What the Cardinals did in letting Pujols go and the Angels did in signing him as strictly and purely business, which is what MLB and pro sports are at heart.
And fans should keep that in mind whenever their favorite player, who they think will stay with their beloved team forever, leaves for what he feels are greener pastures.
Just something to think about.