Vaya con Dios, Palbert, Part II


To recap: Cardinals want to keep Palbert, Palbert wants to stay forever and get paid what he deserves, Cardinals can't make it happen before season starts, Palbert says "No talky during season," Cardinals win World Series, season ends, no talky at all, still no deal, Miami offers then passes, Cards' chances look good, Anaheim Angels come out of nowhere, what will happen next?

Caught up?


When I last left you, I was going home from work. I had time to kill, so I played some LEGO Star Wars*. I decided to check the interweb one more time before going back to work for a meeting** and was greeted by the ESPN home page with this:


...Record Scratch...****

You've. Got. To. Be. Kidding. Me.*****

What just happened here? Is this reality? Did the Angels just swoop in from nowhere and land a deal with the best player of this generation? How could the Cardinals have let this happen? Why would Palbert ever play anywhere else but St. Louis? WHY? HOW? WHERE? WHEN? WHO?

Only an executive order could have a chance at making Palbert stay.

Over the next day or so I had time to think about this, to absorb, to reflect, to read other reactions, to see what others think. And here's my take, in no particular order.

I'm not angry anymore. I guess I wasn't ever really angry, it was more the shock talking/thinking. I'm not surprised, not anymore. I should have seen this coming. I talked myself into thinking that despite the failed pre-season negotiations, Palbert would give St. Louis the benefit, the first bite at the apple, dibs. Maybe he did. Yeah, we heard about Miami's offer first, but maybe St. Louis had been casting their line out quietly.

Am I mad at the Cardinals bigwigs? Yes and no. I'm mad that they weren't willing to give Palbert what he wanted (more on this in a moment). I'm upset that they didn't take care of this in 2009 or 2010. At the same time, it makes business sense not to shackle yourself to a single player who may or may not continue his legendary productivity as he nears 40. It makes business sense not to get into a deal where you'd be paying a 40-year-old player $20-25 million a year when he may or may not be playing at that level. It makes business sense to not pay $200M-plus to one guy when you could use the same money to get three or four guys who are still great and could potentially do more for your team than the one guy. It was a smart business decision.

But then, it's Palbert we're talking about. He's won the MVP three times. He's finished among the top 5 in MVP voting for the last 10 years. He's set an unprecedented record with ten straight 30-home run, 100 RBI seasons. Those ten years were his first ten years in pro baseball. He's been a Hall of Fame shoe-in from pretty much the first time he stepped to the plate at the old Busch Stadium. You can't get better than Palbert, not these days. He's become the face of the Cardinals, the signature of the franchise. He's a virtual god in the Midwest, and to boot he's a nice, humble, family- and faith-centered guy.

So when someone tells me the Cardinals made a good business decision, part of me agrees. But a bigger part says, "This is Palbert we're talking about. He's the guy, the one guy, for whom you make exceptions, for whom you agree to what he wants no matter how crazy it sounds. He's earned it. He deserves it."

So what of Palbert himself? Am I mad at him? Do I feel betrayed? Did he sell out? Is he the new LeBron James?

The answer is no. To all of the above.

From what I can glean of the goings-on and negotiations, Palbert wanted a 10-year deal with a no-trade clause that would also have made him the highest-paid player in baseball. I think all of those are fair things for the greatest player in the game right now to seek. The first two would have essentially meant he would finish his career with the team where he started, that he would come in as a Cardinal and go out as a Cardinal. That's a big deal, and not just because you get a statue outside the stadium.

I heard a statistic the other day that of the nearly 300 players in the MLB Hall of Fame, less than fifty made it having only played for one team. In the current baseball economy where it's not unheard of for a guy to play for two teams in one year and four in two years, staying with one team your whole career is a big deal. The only two guaranteed HOF-ers I can think of who have done that and are still playing are Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera. It's a wonderful thing to want, and like I said, Palbert had earned the right to make that request.

What of the money, then? There is a fair number of folk who argue something along these lines: "I don't want to hear someone who's going to make $XX million dollars a year complaining about not getting enough money." Here's my answer to that: I agree that professional athletes make an obscene amount of money. But there's an economy in each sport, where each participant is payed more or less based on their position in that economy. In the case of sports, players often get paid the highest, because in the sports economy, revenue is generated by the fans, who come to watch the player play. Again, it's obscene, but that's the way it is.

That said, there's no reason whatsoever to fault the best player in any given sport to expect, even ask, maybe demand that he/she be compensated as such. It's fair, it's equitable. Sure, if you compare your economy and baseball's economy, Palbert asking for $200 million plus is bordering on insulting. But in the economy of baseball, to which it's only fair to compare economies of other pro sports, it's absolutely reasonable for the game's best player to make that request.

Anyone who says he's not the best player in decades is an idiot. Or  French.
So here we are. The Cardinals will tackle the 2012 season without the man who defined their previous eleven seasons. They'll try to make enough magic to get back to the postseason sans the man who can create sparks on the field like no other. Can they do it? Yes. Will the do it? Maybe, maybe not. Remember, they weren't supposed to be there this year. We all remember what happened anyway.

Since he joined the St. Louis Cardinals, Albert Pujols has become my favorite baseball player. He will remain so unless or until someone else comes along, regardless of where he plays. He gave me eleven of the best seasons I've experienced as a Cardinals fan. I got to watch him make chumps out of the game's best pitchers, got to watch him turn blistering fastballs and impossible curveballs into unforgettable blasts flying as fast as physics will let them. It's been an honor to watch him play in St. Louis in a Cardinals uniform.

So I say, with no anger, ire, sarcasm, malice or venom: Vaya con Dios, El Hombre.

*Useless detail.
**Another useless detail.
***Useful detail, but not a direct quote.
****My life has changed after finding this sound effect.
*****My actual reaction was, regrettably, a little more PG-13.


Beckie said…
Great post...and I'm glad you aren't holding this against Albert. I too, wish the uppity-ups had resolved this earlier so that we didn't have to hear that the heart of the Cardinals is headed to (ugh) Souther California, but I wish him the best.
genevieve said…
Agreed. Agreed. Agreed. If someone wants to give him that much money, he should take it. Who amongst us wouldn't do the exact same thing? Baseball is about loyalty, sure, but it's also this dude's career. And I'll take Southern Cali over StL any day of the week.

Eckstein is and always will be my favorite Cardinal, no matter where he had been or ended up for his last year. The Cards fans may not think it now, but they'll come around to give Albert a standing O every time he comes back to play in Busch, just like they do David. Or Rolen. Or Edmonds. Or freakin' MABRY.

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