Thursday, October 27, 2011

Ego Money Part Deux: The Second Chapter in the Albert Pujols Contract Saga

On February 22, I posted a blog on Albert Pujols ridiculous demand for the Cardinals to award him a ten year, $300 million deal to give him the highest payroll in baseball and place him on the lone pedestal as the best player in the majors.

St. Louis scoffed at this asinine deal, and instead offered $200 million over eight years. Pujols walked away, talks ended, and the season began.

But despite the looming contract dispute, Pujols legend soared in 2011. He recovered from a wrist injury that ended Cliff Floyd’s power hitting career. He led an impossible, late season surge that’s carried his team past the favored Phillies and Brewers to game six of the World Series.

Now, the red birds find themselves down three games to two with the real possibility tonight could be the last time Pujols dresses in Cardinals red, and St. Louis fans from Memphis to Kansas City are shaking in their boots. Pressure is building to the extent that the Cardinals front office just might cave and give their beloved first baseman the respect/money he wants.

But it would be a mistake.

After a 31 percent ratings drop a year ago, this year’s fall classic is on pace for the fewest TV viewers ever. Even with the NFL putting out the two worst games of the season at competing times, Sunday’s game four earned a 9.1 while game five the following night dropped to an 8.8. Compare this to the 24 million for game six of this year’s NBA Finals.

Major League Baseball is in very real decline.

However, players like Pujols and Prince Fielder seem oblivious to this, and are unrelenting in their desire to one up the last contract to prove their worth. Whether it’s agents, the players’ union, or the players themselves, somehow the message of baseball’s declining popularity is lost in all the zeroes of their contract demands. But when the ratings for game seven of NHL Finals is creeping closer to “America’s pastime”, surely someone can see the writing on the wall.

But even in the post Moneyball era, haven’t baseball executives learned their lesson that the biggest contracts rarely equate to titles? Or increased fan support? Or more revenue?

The inept Boston Red Sox are a prime example. In an attempt to build a team Bostonians would endear themselves to, the Red Sox betrayed what made their fans so devoted. They tried to buy their heroes, plucking from small markets San Diego and Tampa. Instead, they ended up with apathetic, overpaid players who imploded the team and disgusted the fan base.

Howard Bryant’s October 25 article brought to light this conflict facing the Cardinals organization.

“For all his comfort and the public’s love for him, it is unclear how strongly Pujols identifies with being a St. Louis Cardinal, especially in a time and culture when money-- top money and nothing more-- often equals respect.”

I will probably never meet Albert Pujols. I’ll never know his intentions or personality or drive beyond what I see on the field and read online. However, it seems he is not interested in being the hero for the St. Louis faithful. He intends to squeeze every penny out of baseball he can, no matter the effects it has on the long term viability to the league.

Someone needs to remind Albert (and every other professional athlete for that matter) that heroes pay the bills. Every sports team on Earth operates on the principle.

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