St. Louis: All this has happened before (and all this will happen again)

My day got off to a certifiably terrible start. I woke up with a sore throat, about two hours earlier than I would have liked. The culprits, in order:

  1. an awful cold
  2. my brother – calling at some ungodly hour not to wish me a Happy Birthday, but to let me know Albert Pujols had signed with the Anaheim Angels.

Albert Pujols has been, for ten years, far and away my favorite player in baseball. And before you ask – no, it has nothing to do with his name.

It’s been a good ten years. In 2004, I wrote a short piece in my high school newspaper about why St. Louis should have taken the World Series over the Red Sox. Somehow, I managed to work in the following:

Boston lacked what I like to call ‘the Albert Pujols advantage’. Albert Pujols is, unarguably, the best young player in all of baseball, and, because of him, any team the Cardinals play against are at a serious disadvantage.

That, right there, is some hard-hitting analysis. Fangraphs, I await your contract offer.

I spent four and a half years in Philadelphia and managed to attend a grand total of one game at Citizens Bank Park – the Phillies 10,000th loss in 2007. Here’s a summary I sent a friend after getting home:

i went to the phillies game. fantastic. they lost. pujols hit two home runs (i predicted three but you cant have everything).

The home runs, no doubt, in honor of my attendance.

And when my grandfather’s Grand Baseball Tour took him to St. Louis, I asked him to bring me a souvenir – consequently, Pujols’ is the only non-Mariners baseball apparel I own.

And that’s the kicker: Sure, I wanted St. Louis to beat Texas, but I’m not even a Cardinals fan. So when I say I had a terrible day, I know it can’t compare to what Cardinals fans just experienced.

You don’t really need me to go into detail: St. Louis just lost one of the greatest baseball players of all time, just one morning after his re-signing seemed all but assured. Albert Pujols was a Cardinal; I wouldn’t have even wanted him to sign with the Mariners. As a Pujols fan, his failure to re-sign with St. Louis was bad enough. As a Mariners fan, his decision to sign with the division rival Angels was demonstrably worse.

But it’s important to keep things in perspective. Earlier today, I spotted the following status on Facebook:

It has never been so sucky to be a Mariners fan.

Wrong.

Remember that time it was our guy signing the 10-year, $250-million contract with another team in the AL West? December 10, 2000: nearly eleven years ago to the day.

Yeah, that was also a pretty sucky time to be a Mariners fan.

Some parallels between A-Rod and Pujols are obvious: the size and length of their contracts, and the statements they each made about staying put before bolting for the biggest offer, for two. But I would caution Cardinals fans against giving Albert the A-Rod treatment.

From the moment he signed with Texas, A-Rod was a villain. I remember his departure well because it took place about a week before my Bar Mitzvah. I had already received an autographed Sports Illustrated cover depicting A-Rod and Jeter.

Even better, the party was going to be held in Safeco Field.

When he returned to The Safe in 2001, fans famously showered Rodriguez with Monopoly money and catcalls. But something funny happened on the road to infamy: the 2001 Mariners went on to win 116 games, and his betrayal seemed to matter less and less with each passing visit.

When A-Rod comes to the plate in Seattle he still gets a smattering of boos. The reaction is muted compared to what it once was – no doubt partially a function of declining attendance – but also because as he’s aged and gotten worse, the team has moved on and gotten worse, and A-Rod as a Mariner has become no more than a distant memory.

That’s unfortunate. Yes, on top of leaving town for the money, A-Rod turned out to be on steroids and somewhat of a dick (never a promising combination). But Alex Rodriguez the Mariner was also a Hall of Fame talent, and even if his six years in town were all too short, fans in Seattle were lucky to have watched him play for as long as we did.

While preparing for the big One Three, I dragged my dad down to the Mariners Team Store attached to the stadium, and bought myself Rodriguez, #3, for 50% off.

So to the people of St. Louis: I understand if you’re upset and disappointed, at least for a while. But don’t be as quick to discount Albert Pujols’ time in St. Louis as we were to discount A-Rod in Seattle.

Cherish him.

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