Albert Pujols' negotiating deadline has passed without an agreement. I still hold out hopes that something might get done this week... Probably foolishly so.
But that doesn't stop me from being filled with disappointment. As much disappointment as I have had as a baseball fan. I am much more let down than when the Cardinals were swept in the 2004 World Series. I am much more let down than when Jack Clark was allowed to walk away as a free agent after the 1987 season. I am even more bummed out than I was when Whitey Herzog resigned in the middle of the 1990 campaign.
I remember when I heard the news Whitey quit. And it hurt more than just losing one of my all-time favorite Cardinals. I knew that the White Rat left because he realized that he no longer had the power to get the players he needed to compete. I could see the clouds gathering. It was going to be a dark time for Cardinals fans.
I think this situation today is largely the same. The Cardinals seem, by their actions, to be raising the white flag in the battle to put a competitive team on the field every year. By all accounts, the Redbirds made a lazy and unfocused effort to keep Albert Pujols, and now it seems that the odds that he'll play one more season with the Birds -- or less -- are stacked against St. Louis fans.
But it's worse than when Whitey left because Whitey HAD to leave. He couldn't make a difference. Sadly, for all his wonderful charity work and his other fine character traits, Albert Pujols will leave because being filthy rich isn't enough. Despite his promises of a hometown discount and a desire, more than anything, to finish his career with the Cardinals, it seems like he won't be satisfied unless he is the richest player ever to play baseball. And that doesn't seem to be a goal that is consistent with his desire to play in one of the smallest population areas in the majors.
It will be a new dark age for Redbird rooters. And it never should have happened. In the late 1980s the brewery choked off the Cardinals' resources and painted them into a corner. In 2011 the Birds rake in cash hand over fist with record season attendance. But they short their fans in the product on the field, holding the payroll under $100 million while the Phillies, Cubs and other teams the Cards compete with lavish $145 million or more on players.
Say what you want about the size of the St. Louis market. But people support this team like no other. With the lack of support the Tigers have had in the last couple of decades, I can't comprehend how Detroit can afford to outspend the Cardinals by $30 million... Unless the Redbirds ownership is just greedy.
Pujols and the ownership of the Cardinals have let down the fans. They seem to be rushing headlong toward a decision that is in the best interests of the few with no regard whatsoever to the people who pay the bills. We want to go to the games. We want to buy tickets and jerseys and caps. But the Redbirds don't want to do their share and put the best product possible on the field. They only want to be competitive enough to give us the illusion that they are trying to win... So we'll keep buying tickets.
No matter if the team gives Pujols $30 million a year for 10 years or if they let him walk away, the owners of the Redbirds will end up with a tremendous windfall on their investment. About 10 times what they paid for the team a decade and a half ago. But let me ask this: What would the Cardinals be without their 3 million fans? Nothing.
No matter if Pujols played the rest of his career for the major league minimum, he'd gross more than $120 million for playing a child's game. And that isn't even factoring his endorsements or investments.
The numbers on the contract he signs -- with the Cardinals or someone else -- are simply shades of gray to the owners and the player. How rich will they be? How much is enough?
It's about pride and greed, not the best interests of baseball.
The fans of the St. Louis Cardinals will lose a lot more than the best player in baseball when Pujols leaves. They will lose their idealistic image of Pujols as a guy who loved to play the game -- and who loved to play it in front of the adoring St. Louis fans -- more than he cared about records, baseball or financially related.
How can Pujols expect us to throw our hearts into what he does on the field when we now know that he is a coldblooded negotiator who would just as soon go play for the Cubs? It stinks to think that he may jam the 11 years of support we gave him down our throat in the name of a few more million instead of taking his place here on a pedestal next to Stan Musial.
Maybe they'll build a statue of Pujols someday outside of Wrigley Field. They can put it next to the one of Harry Carry. It would seem fitting for the two guys who built their names and legacies in St. Louis only to exile themselves from Cardinal Nation and slink like carpetbaggers to our biggest rival to stand shoulder to shoulder for eternity.
Shame on both sides in this mess.