Many St. Louis Cardinals fans compared Albert Pujols' decision after the 2011 to leave the only team for which he had played to the decision of Lebron James to flee Cleveland for years ago to take his talents to South Beach.
There was outrage and there were accusations of betrayal in both cases. Fans wondered how their favorite player could abandon their support to try to help another team win a title. The only thing that seemingly made the James move more outrageous than Pujols leaving was Lebron's decision to make his defection a public spectacle in which he seemed to twist the knife as much as possible to the injury of his former fans and his former employer.
So it's ironic now that James has kissed and made up with the Cleveland Cavaliers, effectively putting the four years and two championships he won with the Miami Heat aside as his former fans returned to being his current fans, while Pujols continues to drift into irrelevance in his former home.
It turns out that James made the shrewder deal. He put an out in his contract that allowed him an escape hatch to return home while he is still an elite player. Pujols wanted the maxium amount of money he could get, so he inked a 20-year contract that ties him to the Anaheim Angels for 10 years as a player and 10 more as a team ambassador. Lebron built a bridge back home. Pujols burned his bridge and then stomped on the ashes.
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Albert became hated in St. Louis AND in Anaheim. The former for his alleged betrayal and the latter due to the perception that he fleeced the Angels and came to their club as old, damaged goods. His saving grace in St. Louis has been that Pujols has been so awful since he left that fans here feel like they dodged a bullet when he decided to leave. Their resentment has, basically, turned to pity.
Oh, I am sure at this point when the Angels come to St. Louis for interleague play that Pujols will be given a warm, polite welcome. But just ask any Cardinals fan if they'd like to see Albert return to the Cardinals in 2015. If they're not wearing a straight jacket, the answer will be a resounding no.
Sure, Pujols, come back for a visit. But St. Louis fans want no part of your $25 million a year money grab.
While Albert has found his power stroke this season with a 20 home runs before the all-star break, his .322 on-base percentage is the worst of his career. Last year comes in second and the year before third while he got on base at a .420 clip as a Redbird. He never gave the Angels a single years as an elite player in exchange for $254 million.
James can honestly say that he left Cleveland to take less money because he wanted to win. And now he can be a hero for coming back and finishing his career with the home town team. And now he has the maximum contract allowed under the salary cap to boot. The Cardinals have been back to the World Series without Albert. He's exposed for being dishonest when he said he wanted to go where he had the best chance to win, instead opting for a lesser team that paid him a relatively small amount of cash to turn his back on his fans.
Today the sports world rejoices because a small town hero made good redeemed himself by turning his back on the glare of the big city and returning to his small market roots. But for Albert, you really can't go home again.