On December 8, first baseman Albert Pujols left the St. Louis Cardinals — the team that Pujols had spent his first 11 seasons with — to join the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. The Angels drew Pujols away from the Cardinals with a 10-year, $254 million contract, and enough money in incentives to sign a halfway decent player. Unfortunately, that is the way the sports business goes; players often leave their longtime teams for a massive contract in another city. My question: why?
What happened to the players that embraced their iconic statuses in their home cities? Granted, many of the legends that played most or all of their entire careers in one city (Stan Musial, Harmon Killebrew, Hank Aaron, etc.) in the time before free agency, which tended to keep the best players with their teams for an extended period of time. However, many icons still choose to stay in their home cities (Chipper Jones, Tony Gwynn, Cal Ripken, Jr. just to name a few) to cement their statuses as legends with their teams. Where has this loyalty gone?
Call me naive, but I still like to think that athletes have some kind of loyalty left to their teams. When the Cardinals won the World Series in October — Pujols’ second with the team — right fielder Lance Berkman looked at Pujols during the celebration and asked him to come back next season. Furthermore, Pujols told St. Louis media in 2009 that he would not leave St. Louis for 3 or 4 million dollars more per year. What happened? Pujols denied Berkman’s request in December, leaving St. Louis for what turned out to be 3 or 4 million dollars more per year.
Does one’s image mean nothing to athletes anymore? Pujols did so much for the city of St. Louis, and he was a pillar of class that everyone could look up to. He had a restaurant in a nice part of town, a sterling reputation in the tail end of the Steroid Era, and a successful charity that aided families in the Dominican Republic and families with children afflicted with Down’s Syndrome. On the field, Pujols did enough in just 11 seasons to make him worthy of the Hall of Fame, and helped the Cardinals win two championships and a handful of division titles. He had everything he could have possibly wanted in St. Louis, but still left for a larger contract.
Regardless of where Pujols landed this offseason, he would’ve been paid a lot of money for a long time. In my opinion, the Angels grossly overpaid for Pujols, but that aside, why not stay in St. Louis and complete your career with one team and join the likes of Ripken, Killebrew, and especially in St. Louis, Stan Musial.