Commentary: Fallen angels are part of the game | St. Louis Public Radio

Commentary: Fallen angels are part of the game

Dec 15, 2011

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Dec. 15, 2011 - Somewhere within the ocean of news ink devoted to the departure of Albert Pujols from St. Louis to Anaheim, I read that the slugger had prayed for divine guidance while contemplating his options as a free agent. If that report was accurate, it's not surprising that he split for the coast because you'd have to figure that God would wind up playing on the side of the Angels.

Actually, Albert followed a trail that had been previously blazed. During the course of the most recent World Series, he entered the record books as the third man in history to hit three home runs in one game of the fall classic.

Babe Ruth had accomplished the feat twice during the 1920s -- both times in game #4 -- and Reggie Jackson concluded the 1977 Series by slamming three dingers in game #6. Puljos' hitting tutorial in game #3 of this year's championship was just another redundant argument for his eventual enshrinement in Cooperstown. Yes, the guy is that good. But though it must be exhilarating to soar with the angels, it's likewise unreasonable to consider yourself immune from their fate.

Ruth arrived in New York as a Yankee by virtue of having been sold by his previous team, the Boston Red Sox. That particular deal gave rise to the "Curse of the Bambino" - a supernatural banishment that supposedly barred the Red Sox from winning a World Championship because of the sacrilege of trading one of the game's gods for money. That augury held sway until the 2004 Series when it was expurgated by a four-game sweep of the Pujols-led Cardinals. And though it's not much mentioned these days in the Big Apple, Ruth concluded his storied career as a relatively undistinguished member of the erstwhile Boston Braves.

Jackson came to the Yankees from the Kansas City/Oakland A's after a one-year sabbatical in Baltimore. Mr. October departed the pinstriped penthouse of baseball after the 1981 season when he signed as a free agent with the Los Angeles/ Anaheim/California/Los Angeles (again) Angels. Thus, a franchise that has never actually moved but has frequently redefined its whereabouts, and one that has won exactly one World Series during its 50-year history, can legitimately claim two of the Series' signature hitters. Jackson, incidentally, finished his Hall of Fame career with a nondescript one-year stint in Oakland.

In the present contretemps, Pujols contends that his decision to abandon his oft-stated desire to be a "Cardinal for life" and split for quite literally greener pastures was not prompted by the money. I believe him.

After all, the Florida Marlins reportedly offered him over $274 million for ten years but balked at including a no-trade clause. That latter provision was the deal-breaker. Even though he would have received full compensation from his contract regardless of where he played, its lack of personal commitment was a lethal turn-off so he signed for $254 million and the promise of true love from Angels' owner, Arte Moreno.

In retrospect, the new contract was as much a marriage as it was a business deal. And that, I suspect, is what the Cardinals' offer lacked -- romance. Team chairman, Bill DeWitt Jr., is a businessman and a good one at that. He recognizes that on-field success equates to enhanced revenue. Giving the fans what they want, his team has appeared in the World Series three times in the last eight years.

He probably saw, as I did, that Albert was slowing down. Nagging injuries and the cumulative toll of 11 seasons in the Bigs were beginning to take their toll. As there have always been suspicions that the prodigy was in fact a couple of years older than his Dominican birth certificate claims him to be, he was thus confronted with the prospect of obligating funds needed for fresh talent to an aging superstar who could no longer contribute at his previous level.

Borrowing a phrase from Reggie Jackson, this is not a formula for putting "the meat in the seats." Venerating yesterday's glories doesn't sell tomorrow's tickets. For proof of that observation, refer to the St. Louis Rams.

Still, Albert was understandably a fan favorite so DeWitt finally came up with a no-trade offer for ten years and $210 million. Albert took umbrage at the meagerness of that proposal and ran off with Moreno after a whirlwind courtship. I suspect that DeWitt was secretly grateful for the rejection. As an honorable man, he'd offered to do the decent thing and was mercifully turned down.

I'd advise local fans who are now threatening to burn their Pujols memorabilia to chill out. How many of them would trade their team loyalties for $44 million? Besides, there's a word for the kind of off-season treachery and intrigue we've just witnessed. That word is "baseball."

M.W. Guzy is a retired St. Louis cop who currently works for the city Sheriff's Department. His column appears weekly in the Beacon.