The never-ending saga of Albert Pujols' divorce from the Cardinals took another unfortunate turn this week as former St. Louis manager Tony La Russa jumped into the calming waters with a big splash.
La Russa beseeched Redbirds rooters not to hold a grudge against Pujols for signing a quarter billion-dollar contract with the Angels because he claims to have personal knowledge that the former St. Louis slugger offered the Cardinals a significant hometown discount to stay and the team told him no.
It's not that I believe everything the Cardinals say. But I find it pretty tough to believe that Pujols expressly offered to play for St. Louis for $185 million to $190 million over 10 years when he turned down that much money or more prior to spring training. On the other hand, if the Cardinals let us believe they pitched deals at $200 million or more to the best player in baseball and he threw them back in their faces when it just wasn't true, I think the paying customers have a right to know why they did it.
It would be extremely underhanded for the team to let Pujols take the heat as a defector when they really had no intention of signing him in the first place. They should have done the honorable thing and told the fans that they didn't intend to bring Albert back whether it be because they couldn't afford him, they thought he was over the hill, or they just wanted to go in a different direction.
La Russa went on to paint Pujols as a hero claiming that he basically tried to do everything he could to stay in a St. Louis uniform.
"That's a lot of money he would have walked away from, but even at that level the Cardinals could not have swung it," La Russa said during the radio interview.
First, there is something very wrong with the financial structure of baseball if one of the top five draws in the game can't come within $60 million of the winning bid for a player. But, second, I don't believe the Cardinals couldn't afford Pujols. I believe he would have eaten into their profit margin and become a burden in later years. But could they scrape the cash together to make sure his check didn't bounce? I'm pretty sure they could.
Meanwhile Pujols may or may not have offered to take less money. But he still priced himself out of St. Louis by insisting on a 10-year deal. Stan Musial was a Cardinal for life but he had to earn his contracts one season at a time. And Pujols, if he signed a three-year deal for $75 million, wasn't going to have to worry about collecting food stamps any time in his lifetime -- or the lifetimes of his kids or grandchildren.
Personally, I think there is plenty of blame to go around for everyone in this deal. I think Pujols created the bad feelings about him by claiming he was different than all the other money-grubbing big leaguers and that he would do anything he could to stay with the Cardinals. Meanwhile, I think if the Cardinals really wanted to re-sign him they would have been more pro-active instead of waiting until other teams had a chance to woo him away.
But, any way you slice it, the fact that Pujols will be out of the Cardinals family for at least 20 years stinks any way you look at it. And I don't need anyone -- not even a future Hall of Fame manager -- to tell me how to feel about it.
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