Cheap Seats

The Pujols problem and Jimmy Ballgame

As we near the deadline for Albert Pujols to agree to a contract extension, it is becoming increasingly clear that no matter who blinks — the player or the club — it is ultimately going to be the fans who lose this battle.

First, if an agreement isn’t reached, I can’t imagine how uncomfortable the 2012 season is going to be for Cardinals rooters. If the Birds can’t sign Pujols now, there is no other conclusion to be reached other than that they will be less likely to work out a deal after he hits the open market.

I think this is going to play out sort of like having your wife tell you that she’s leaving you — but not until after your anniversary party six months from now.

If things are going to go sour, can’t we just get this over with? Apparently not, because Pujols has told the Cardinals he would reject any trade. And that’s his privilege since the front office foolishly let Pujols reach 10 years of experience in the majors and at least five years with the same club without a new contract in place.

The Redbirds apparently assumed that signing the best player in baseball was going to be a cakewalk. That he would be begging for the chance to play in St. Louis for the rest of his career. But a funny thing happened on the way to the bank. ... They’ve given away all of their leverage in the negotiations. Now all they can do is hope for mercy.

If the Cardinals do manage to work something out with Pujols, rest assured that it’s going to be the 3 million faithful fans that are stuck carrying the freight. Once one of the best bargains in baseball, the Cardinals have the eighth-highest average ticket price in the game through the 2010 season at $52 a seat, according to ticketnetwork.com. How much more can the Birds expect fans to pay?

I know Pujols, like other major leaguers, equates dollars to respect. But, as much as I want him to be a Cardinal for life, isn’t a quarter billion dollars enough for a career as a ballplayer?

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I’m glad to see Jim Edmonds back in a Cardinals uniform. I just wish I wouldn’t have had to look at him in Cubs, Brewers or Reds duds over the last few seasons.

“Jimmy Ballgame” is one of my all-time favorite Redbirds. And, with all respect to Ozzie Smith’s “go crazy folks homer,” Edmonds’s 2004 NLCS catch of Brad Ausmus’ gapper ranks as the best Cardinals play that I witnessed in person.

Spoiled by Smith’s shortstop wizardry, Cardinals fans have come to expect great defense. But, with the Redbirds already down by one in the second and two on base with only one out, I said out loud “this game is over” as the ball left Ausmus’ bat. If Edmonds wouldn’t have caught that ball it would have been, too. It would have been 3-0 with a man in scoring position and one out the way Roger Clemens had handled the Cardinals. But, seated behind first base, I was shocked to see Edmonds lay out and catch the ball in his fully extended glove. Almost as shocked as the base runners were as they scrambled back to their original positions.

I don’t know how much gas he has left in the tank. But, if Edmonds can keep his legs healthy, he could be an excellent pinch hitter and late inning defensive replacement for an outfield that is weak with the leather. If he can’t make a go of it, at least he will retire with St. Louis, which is what should have happened in the first place.

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