I have to admit that I am a little bit surprised by the reaction to my post a few days ago about the sour chemistry in the Cardinals clubhouse and its relationship to the disappointing product we have seen so far on the field.
People seem to think the thought that Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday might be having some sort of conflict is unimaginable. I still don't think it takes much imagination at all.
I didn't invent this idea that there is a problem. GM John Mozeliak brought it up during the pre-game show on KSDK last Sunday. He said that, while players aren't openly hostile toward each other, there was definitely a lack of cohesiveness in the locker room and on the field. Taking the boss' word that there is a problem, I don't think there's much of a deductive leap to figure out who is likely involved.
Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols and left fielder Matt Holliday give each other a high five during the 2009 season.
First, you have to look at who has been added to the mix and second you have to look at who is playing worse than expected. Matt Holliday has had a stunningly disappointing season so far while Albert Pujols found himself in the odd position of looking up at .300 in the middle of June.
I don't think it's much of a reach to imagine that Albert Pujols, the undisputed superstar of this team for the better part of a decade might be miffed that the Cardinals not only paid Matt Holliday more money than him, but that they backed on on their off-season pledge to extend Pujols' contract before the start of the 2010 season. Think of it from Pujols' point of view: Even if the fact that Holliday is making more per season than him doesn't bother the big guy, he has to be wondering at this point if Holliday was truly brought in to compliment him -- or if Holliday was brought in to replace him. Why did the team back off of its extension plans?
So now you have a situation where the lesser players on the Cardinals are caught between being loyal to Albert or completely accepting Holliday into the fold. Sounds pretty uncomfortable to me.
I'm not saying that Pujols is a bad guy. I think he has a lot of right to be miffed. But he has taken the high road throughout his career. Pujols' current contract is FAR below market value for a player of his quality. He's the best player in baseball and he's not even amongst the top 25 highest paid players in the game. Alex Rodriguez of the Yankees makes more than TWICE as much money per season as Pujols. Other guys with richer contracts include Aramis Ramirez, Barry Zito, Torii Hunter, Ryan Howard and Carlos Beltran. If you did a better job than a lesser qualified co-worker and you knew that person made more money than you, wouldn't you be upset?
The most common argument I have heard is that fans saw Pujols and Holliday smiling and talking in the dugout during the telecast of a game against Seattle. Yeah, so?
Maybe Pujols doesn't personally dislike Holliday as much as he resents his contract. Maybe Pujols is a mature enough person that he doesn't act like a high schooler and snip at Holliday, instead choosing to be professional. There was a famous photo of Pujols hugging Scott Rolen when the Birds won the 2006 World Series like the two were long lost brothers. According to pubished reports, a few minutes later the pair was responsible for scuttling a promotional autograph deal when there was a dispute how much one would be paid in relation to the other for participating in a team autograph session.
Funny things happen to nice people when hundreds of million dollars and ultra competitive egos become involved.
Regardless of who is to blame, the Cardinals have a chemistry issue that has caused problems on the field. I just hope they can work it out before it's too late. This is a very talented and extremely capable team. But it needs to start playing like it.