The Albert-less Cardinals

I’m handling the Albert Pujols news – or non-news – pretty well.

I’ve resigned myself that it’s possible Pujols won’t play for the St. Louis Cardinals after the 2011 season. I don’t like it; I’m not even sure I understand it.

Cardinals owner Bill DeWitt, Jr., chats with manager Tony La Russa.

But I know any time millionaires are negotiating to become even richer, it turns me off. And if that’s anti-capitalism, it’s not meant to be. It’s supposed to be anti-filthyrichism.

I don’t blame Pujols, really, for wanting to cash in. By baseball standards, he has been underpaid during the first 10 seasons of his career. And even during the last five, when he’s made about $16 per season, the Cardinals have gotten a bargain, at least in the world or professional sports.

To some degree, I understand his apparent sentiment. His career will last, at best, 10 more years. At 41 or 42, he’ll be finished making the huge dollars that he can make presently. So why not make what you can when you can?

As for the Cardinals, they’re my team. They’ll always be my team. It’s a father-son thing, a bond that can never be broken. And I would suggest you not even try.

But my loyalty to St. Louis doesn’t mean I agree with everything the front office does. I still get a sick feeling in my gut when I think of how the Cardinals traded Steve Carlton to the Philadelphia Phillies 40 or so years ago. And if reports of the Cardinals’ best offer to Pujols are accurate, then I’m disgusted with owner Bill DeWitt, Jr., and general manager John Mozielak.

Those reports state that the Cardinals’ best offer so far would make Pujols only one of the top 10 highest-paid players in the game. Top 10? For the best hitter in baseball today and one of the best ever?

Like I said, if this is true then I’m sick.

According to Ken Rosenthal at foxsports.com, the Cardinals’ offer was somewhere in the neighborhood of $20 million per for eight or nine seasons. The years sound right, the money doesn’t. No way Pujols would take that and get paid less than Ryan Howard and a few others around the league.

And as I write all of this, I hate myself for talking about $20 million a year for eight or nine years being a ridiculous offer. I won’t make $20 million in my lifetime and I’m doing OK.

These enormous contracts are just part of doing business in professional sports. And the reason is because we fans support the craziness by purchasing tickets and $9 beer and $4 popcorn and $15 parking. Most owners are awash in money and were before they ever bought their baseball team.

In case you can’t tell by all my meandering on this matter, I’m emotionally torn. Watching Pujols play the past 10 seasons has been an amazing treat. I heard Jim Rome say today on his radio show that Cardinals fans will continue to show up at Busch Stadium in large numbers regardless of whether No. 5 is around.

He’s probably right, but it’s not that easy. St. Louis baseball without Pujols is, to me, unimaginable. He is such a fixture in that lineup, such a profoundly good player. It’s difficult not to take him for granted because he’s been the most consistently-outstanding player of his generation. Yet I’m so programmed into players generally not staying in one place for their entire careers that I’ve probably been bracing for the possibility of Pujols in another uniform without really knowing it.

This is just how things work nowadays. I’m trying, as I suspect other Cardinals fans are, not to take it personally.

Pujols is beloved in St. Louis. He has played for a consistent winner, albeit one that has not won a postseason game since 2006. The ballpark is jammed for most of his home games. He is part of the fabric of the city of St. Louis.

And, it’s valuable to remember that while he might have one foot out the door, the Cardinals can still drag him back. He won’t be a free agent until five days after the World Series. So, while it might be true that negotiations are over for the rest of spring training and the regular season (which is questionable), the Cardinals will still have a five-day window at the end of the season to strike a deal.

But what will the landscape look like then? How will the season have played out? Will Pujols be sick of the Cardinals and vice versa? What if St. Louis has a mediocre season? Will the fans turn on Pujols?

I love it when Cardinals manager Tony La Russa and others, Pujols included, insist this contract stuff won’t be a distraction during the season. Are they crazy? It’ll be a major distraction and one that seems sure to be to cause flare-ups.

But what are you gonna do?

I know what I’m gonna do. I’m gonna do what I’ve done the past 48 years. I’m going to follow the Cardinals, for better or for worse.

My Facebook friend

Stan Stiverson

Stan Stiverson and his wife, Allison

I can’t tell you how often I run into someone I wrote about years ago. Normally, I don’t have any recollection of the particularly story, and sometimes I don’t even remember the guy or girl the story was about. But I always get a kick out of it when somebody remembers a story because it reminds me of just how long I’ve been doing this and how much fun it has been. Stan Stiverson, as you’ll read, is one of those people I’ve written about. And that I don’t remember. Here’s what he had to say about our FB friendship and other things:

Well, we are Facebook friends because I listen to “Sports Daily,” I read your column and mostly because you wrote an article about me in 1987 when i was a senior at Pratt High School….you mentioned my 40 time was like 4.7 or 4.8 and I always wanted to tell you that was wrong. I’m sure I ran 4.5 to 4.6 lol. Anyway, I moved (to Wichita) in 1990 and sold Kirby vaccums for 7 years and now I have my own business (B&B builders-concrete and outdoor living spaces industry.) We have two awesome children who are twins. My daughter, Brae, is headed to Southwestern (in Winfield) on track and academic scholarships and my son, Boston, is headed to K-State to play for the ledgendary Bill Snyder and the Wildcats. I attend New Springs church and play fantasy football. I’m learning to play base guitar and also like to karaoke. (By the way) congrats on your new marraige to Debbie.