Albert Pujols is my favourite baseball player. The St. Louis Cardinals are not my favourite baseball team. I can probably thank fantasy sports for that contradiction. With Pujols, not only are we watching one of the best baseball players who ever lived, we are watching the most consistent fantasy player in the game.
My favourite memory of Albert is watching him play the New York Mets at Shea Stadium in 2006. We were in New York for our honeymoon and I managed to squeeze in a baseball game with the usual honeymoon activities. The fact that I steered our honeymoon to New York in part to watch him play was not lost on her; fortunately Mrs. SportsJuice doesn’t mind taking in the occasional ball game. I had never seen Pujols play and I came to the game with big expectations.
In the top of the fourth, Pujols came up to bat for the second time in the game with men on first and third with nobody out. With a 0-1 count, he crushed the ball to right center to make it a 3-1 game.
Fast forward to the top of the fifth and Pujols came up with the bases loaded and two out. On a 1-1 count, another bomb, this time to left center to make it a 7-1 game. I was dancing in the aisles and Mrs. SportsJuice was into it as well. I think the 7 RBIs has stood as his career best, matched during the recent World Series.
That night might have been the start of our tradition whenever I see Pujols come up to bat on tv. I interrupt whatever Ms. Juice is up to and say, “When I say poo, you say holes. Poo!” She obliges and says “Holes!”, I then say “Poo”, she follows with “Holes”. We occasionally mix it up and she says poo and I say holes, but it doesn’t work quite as well.
Anyways, it was a fantastic game that ended with Carlos Beltran hitting a walk off three run homer in the bottom of the ninth to win it for the Mets. We were sitting beside a mother and son, with the mother wearing a Beltran t-shirt. I think the son worked on a crossword puzzle most of the night. Beltran hits that homer and the mom goes absolutely bananas. B-a-n-a-n-a-s. I suspect she then sent her kid home on the train and spent the night trying to hook up with Beltran.
I have often thought about the goals of being a professional athlete. When superstars make decisions to join another team, I try to reconcile that to what I would do in the circumstances. In my mind, I would have noble intentions to play for a single team, win championships and create a real legacy. Late in my career, I could envision pulling a “Ray Bourque” and leaving my team in search of an elusive championship (Bourque left the Boston Bruins very late in his career and won a Stanley Cup with the Colorado Avalanche). Beyond that, I would want to finish my career where I started if I could be so lucky.
In my mind, I would have great respect for the jersey that I proudly wore. If I was a Yankee I would never play for the Red Sox. If I was an Edmonton Oiler, I would never play for the Calgary Flames. I would never play for the Flames under any circumstances, but that is another story for another day.
Albert Pujols has never hidden his ultimate goals in baseball. After being drafted in the 13th round in 1999, he has been driven to prove his doubters wrong. He wants to be known as the best player who has ever played the game. In addition to the MVP awards and the .300 average, 30 home runs and 100 RBIs each season, he views his salary as an indication of his worth. He just wrapped up a 7 year, $100 million contract that had him outside of the top 25 player salaries last season. This offseason was to be his choice between his legacy with the Cardinals and his legacy with his banker.
We all know how that turned out.
Pujols signed a 10 year, $254 million contract with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim located in California (or whatever they are called). The $254 million eclipses Alex Rodriguez’s $252 million 10 year deal with the Rangers, falling just short of ARod’s $275 million deal with the Yankees. Mission basically accomplished.
We don’t really need time to tell us how this contract is going to play out. Pujols will be great for awhile yet, but age will eventually catch up to him and he will be a shell of the player he once was. Rather than play through his decline in front of the St. Louis fans that view him as a god, he will grind it out in southern California in front of fans that wish he wasn’t an albatross over the team’s ability to spend money on more productive players. Instead of a statue beside Stan Musial, he will likely sit alone in the clubhouse and wonder if the money was really worth it.