Full disclosure is needed up front for this article. I am a die-hard St. Louis Cardinals fan. While I haven’t had the opportunity to go to very many games in person—just two, actually—I have listened to them for years, including using the MLB AtBat audio subscription, and watched them whenever I get the chance. [Side note, the Android app for listening to the games totally takes me back to having an old radio with a single earbud that I could carry around and listen to secretly. Now I just do it with my phone instead.]
A few weeks ago there was a really good feature on 60 Minutes about their franchise player, Albert Pujols. I didn’t catch all of it because I am not a big 60 Minutes fan and didn’t see a tweet or anything alerting me to its existence. As I sat and watched the stories about Pujols’ generosity and goodwill, I found myself pondering his contract situation—he will be a free agent at the end of the current season—that has upset so many Cardinals fans this off-season.
There is no shortage of spent ink and electrons that have been used to detail the ins and outs of his (failed) negotiations with the team from a purely speculative view. And there have been plenty of people who have taken Pujols to task for being greedy or defended him for trying to get all he is worth. I am not going to do either of those. I want to present what it likely just my idealistic wish in the whole matter, but one that I would certainly find plausible given Pujols’ demonstrated character.
Pujols is a fierce competitor. This is one of the driving factors that makes him so great at what he does. He is also a devout Christian, and while he doesn’t parade it around and make a big deal about it; it is this fact that makes the greedy appellation being attached to these negotiations, such a touchy one.
As a fellow follower of Jesus Christ, I have found myself conflicted over how Pujols will handle this situation. I think it is totally understandable and even acceptable for him to seek to be paid commensurate with his abilities as a baseball player. Pujols has demonstrated a willingness to use his money to help others rather than just lavish it on himself or waste it on frivolous things completely. That alone should fend off the charge of greed.
But the folks of St. Louis and Cardinals fans everywhere want Pujols to take it easy on the team’s pocketbook. We aren’t the Yankees and can’t spend like the federal government. The problem we face is that we know that the man should be paid like the best player in baseball, because he is. But we know that the money just probably isn’t going to be there in St. Louis’ coffers if we want to keep any kind of team around him for the future. Pujols knows this too I am sure. So what is the holdup and why doesn’t he just sign a contract for less than the “best player” amount if he really wants to stay in St. Louis?
I have a theory. I think that Pujols wants validation of his status as the best player in baseball more than he even desires the money that goes with it. This is the sense I get from hearing him talk. The only way to validate what that full amount is will be to hit the free agent market and see what teams really will pay for his services. It doesn’t mean he has to take their offers, but I think he wants to see what he is worth. There may be some who argue that this is wrong for him to do and I won’t deny that it is certainly going to stress out Cardinals nation to watch it happen. But bear with this process.
I am hopeful that Pujols will get the lofty offers from the big boys that are thrown out there in the media and will still come back home and take a slightly smaller amount from the Cardinals. I am also sure it will be a lot more than he makes now—that is the safest bet anyone could take.
Pujols isn’t hung up on being the highest paid player in baseball in my opinion, but he wants people to know that he could have been the highest paid player in baseball if he wanted to be. It isn’t about greed, it is about taking pride in being the best at what he does and having it acknowledged in every facet of the game, even in the business side.
Photo credit/copyright: USA Today