By Kelsey Rettke
There’s a video of my siblings and I when we were little kids being interviewed by the local news about our favorite Cardinals player. We were all decked out in our Cardinal Kid’s Crew gear — shirts, a baseball hat that was too big for our heads so that our little ears sagged under the bulk of it, red all around — excited just to be at the game, in the (old) Busch Stadium, ready to cheer on our beloved Cardinals. We shyly responded with the same answer, “Willie McGee.”
That was back around 1996, before the mighty Albert Pujols signed on with the Cardinals in 2001. Since that moment, Pujols has become a St. Louis icon — a player that could be counted on for turning the game around.
That all changed on Thursday, Dec. 8, when Pujols decided that money mattered more than team loyalty. In a free agency deal that had been talked about for a year prior to 2011, Pujols left the Cardinals, signing with the Los Angeles Angels, a $254 million 10-year deal. After an entire decade with the Cardinals, his first — and what was assumed/hoped, to be his last — team, three World Series attendances, two World Series wins and rings, he left us.
I can imagine that many little kids, like myself more than 10 years ago, excitedly talking about my favorite Cardinals player, counted themselves among Pujols’ finest fans, his loyal followers, his backup; and to them, perhaps he was their hero.
What ever happened to team loyalty? There is nothing more important in the realm of sports in St. Louis than baseball. And to say that the Cardinals community has been shocked by this occurrence is no doubt an understatement. Mostly though, I feel like Pujols has betrayed us.
Is money really that much more important than the game itself? No person should get paid $254 million to play a game, nor should anyone feel like they have the right to ask for so much. Like my sister Caitlyn said, “That amount of money should be illegal unless it is going to better the world. And it is not.” Playing a game shouldn’t call for that much money. Just because you’re good, Mr. Pujols, doesn’t mean you should feel like you’re obligated to such an outrageous sum.
When Stan “The Man” Musial, was a first baseman for the Cardinals in the 1960s, he graciously, famously and without complaint accepted a pay cut of his salary from $100,000 to $80,000. He did it because he understood the true purpose of baseball and how lucky he was to be a part of such a great team. There is a true magic to the game, something that apparently Pujols doesn’t understand.
Baseball is about the sport and the joy of playing the game. When Musial was in the Navy in 1945 (he had to leave the Cardinals for a brief period to enlist during the war), he still played baseball every afternoon in the naval-bases’ league. He did it simply because he loved the game so much. And he didn’t care if he got paid for it.
Bernie Miklasz, a Sports columnist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, paints a sad picture. “Heck, even the good-natured Musial is making a pitch. His grandson Brian Schwarze posted a photo Tuesday [Dec. 6] on Twitter. It showed a smiling Musial holding this poster-sized message: ‘All I want for Christmas is for Pujols to be a Cardinal.’ Is Pujols really going to let “The Man” down?”
Well, yes. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what Pujols did. Along with an entire city that was hoping for his return. After such an intense post-season, barely getting into the play-offs with the Wild Card position, winning the National League division, and finally the World Series, it’s almost like Pujols decided to take his ring and leave.
We St. Louisians were so sure he was going to stay, had so convinced ourselves of his loyalty and the impracticality of his leaving—he, his wife and kids called St. Louis their home for 10 years. He had set up a charity organization based in St. Louis and his entire baseball career had been formed on the grounds of Busch Stadiums in the hands of Cardinal Nation’s fans.
What is perhaps the most depressing sentiment out of this whole ordeal is the notion that, no matter the loyal fan base and number of people — little kids or 90- year old retired Cardinals veteran — shouting Pujols’ name at their top of their lungs, imploring him, begging him to stay, in the end, money was the only thing that mattered.