This is a story without a villain:
- I’m not angry at Albert Pujols. How can I be after all this? He’s provided us with too many impossible moments to chronicle and ferried us to a pair of championships. The past is unchanged, as some philosopher said at some point, probably in the original French.
- All sides acted rationally. The Angels’ offer was demonstrably better than ours on a number of levels. Pujols sensibly accepted it. I normally don’t resort to pat certainties, but in this case I will: it’s just business. The Cardinals may not have the revenue base to withstand a contract that could turn into a boondoggle halfway through the commitment. The Angels do have that luxury, and signing Pujols turns them into a certifiable contender in the here and now.
- Many among us are angry at a perceived betrayal. Why? Pujols fulfilled his obligations to the team, and you — and I — were richly rewarded for the tickets and media packages we purchased and “emotional equity” we invested. Pujols insisted the endgame wouldn’t be about the money, and indeed it may not have been. The Marlins reportedly made the highest offer, which he obviously didn’t accept. As well, the Cardinals’ approach to negotiations may have left Pujols spoiling for respect.
- Yes, he has an ego. Even the most polished, seemingly humble ballplayer has a powerful sense of self-investment. Regardless of appearances, one does not become one of the best in the world at anything without an ego. It’s in the factory settings. Maybe this was about respect, which has a little something to do with money and a lot to do with proper deference and regard.
- Like it or not, bemoan it or not, Pujols isn’t a schoolteacher/cop/firefighter/service-industry worker/blogger/whatever. Yes, the sums bandied about sound indecent to us, and it’s hard to fathom being insulted by hundreds of millions of dollars. But we all measure ourselves against our peers. What you and I make or would be willing to play for isn’t part of the calculus. Unless you’ve been a part of negotiations of a similar scale and then chose the lesser offer, then righteous claims as to what you would’ve done mean little.
- We’ll never, ever know the full complement of motivations that led him to do this. Pujols might want a new challenge after winning it all and seeing the only manager he’s ever known retire. He might believe the Angels provide him with a better opportunity to win than the Cardinals do (although there’s a self-fulfilling element to that prophecy). It could be layers of reasons. The weather. The chance to ease into the DH role in five years or so. Maybe his favorite cousin lives in Mission Viejo. He enjoys fresh, roadside citrus. Whatever. Even the most enterprising reporters aren’t privy to his thoughts.
- Stan Musial, the beloved godhead to whom Pujols is so chronically compared, might have done the same thing. Yes: Stan the Man, of his own devising, might have left the Cardinals. The shame is that he never had the chance. I yield to no one in my admiration of Musial, but, as with all players of the pre-Messersmith/McNally era, the lack of basic freedoms is often mistaken for loyalty.
- Most of all, to read into L’Affaire Pujols the basest of impulses is to pretend you know things you simply don’t. You’ll never know his innermost workings, the exact tenor of negotiations, or his true reasons for making this choice. Never. It makes for a tidy narrative to color him as a bad actor in all of this, but one could just as easily say the organization, after enjoying a decade-plus of Pujols for pennies on the dollar, is the disloyal party, the one who’s most transparently “about the money.” I choose not to make either case, mostly because a negotiation isn’t a morality tale.
And with that, I am sufficiently purged. I’m also ready for actual baseball.