Field of Broken Dreams

It hurts.

Watching Albert Pujols put on an Anahiem Angels jersey and 4,000 fans chanting for their new superstar. It hurts.

I have invested thousands of hours and thousands of dollars into being a fan of the Cardinals. There are few things I love more (outside of my family and my faith) than the game of baseball and the lifetime of memories I have watching the Cardinals. They are a truly great organization.

But it wasn’t supposed to end this way. Pujols was supposed to ride off into the sunset as the greatest Cardinal who ever lived in the greatest baseball town on the planet.

Baseball means a lot of things to a lot of people. For some, it is an escape from the pressures and stresses of daily life. For others it is tradition, family memories, and legacy. For yet others, it is a chance to be a part of something bigger than themselves.

As a die-hard 4th generation Cardinals fan, I have experienced baseball to be all of these things.

And because the game has the power to lift our spirits and bring us joy, we put a lot of pressure and expectations on those that lead our teams to victory. We want them to be something better than us. We need them to be better than us. We expect our superstars to be superheroes. The superhero is always virtuous and looking out for the greater good. The superhero always triumphs in the end, and stands up for everything that we think is good and right.

Sports and entertainment have become so closely interwoven that at times we forget they aren’t the same thing.

Many of us grew up watching Field of Dreams, the Natural, Rookie of the Year, and the Sandlot. Baseball stories always end leaving you with that warm fuzzy feeling we all felt during the 2011 season. Surely we would get to see this at least 2-3 more times with Albert and company in St. Louis. Surely, I would someday get to take my kids to a game where they can see #5 on the outfield wall and his statue next to Stan the Man.

The problem is this isn’t the movies. Superstars are not superheroes. They are men (and women). They have egos, emotions, families to think about. So do the guys in the front office writing the checks.

Sometimes the Field of Dreams turns into the Field of Broken Dreams.

As a boy, Michael Jordan was my hero. At 10 years old, I wanted to be just like him and play in the NBA someday. MJ was bigger than life to me. He was superhuman.

I was crushed when I found out he was flying playboy models to his hotel rooms on road trips. I was crushed when I learned he got into some heavy gambling deals that caused a lot of rumors to circulate about terrible things. I was crushed to learn that he was not a nice teammate. Superheroes don’t act that way.

I was a bit older when Pujols came on the scene. But he was the “Chosen One” for baseball. The Hollywood story of the guy who everyone passed over in the draft that soars to heights never before seen. He was the guy not using PED’s to hit home runs during the troublesome steroid era of baseball. He was the good Christian man that puts family first and does incredible charity work. He was the last guy modern baseball would ever see stay with one team his whole career. He was the next Stan the Man.

Then the Deadspin article came out about his agent. Then a deal didn’t get done with the Cardinals even with 10 years and 220 million reportedly on the table. The questions started swirling in my mind, and I was angry at Albert for leaving.

The pain of that moment led me to believe that Albert was greedy. That he didn’t mean all the things he said about being a Cardinal for life. That sports is only and always about the money. He wasn’t supposed to be that way. He was supposed to stand up for what was good and right. And that of course was staying in St. Louis.

Cardinals fans cope with the situation by saying, “sure am glad we don’t have that big contract on our books for the next 10 years”. And from a business perspective, that makes total sense. But this deal was never about the production per dollar in the last 5 years of the contract. This deal was about what the market was willing to give him, and keeping the best player in baseball to win more championships NOW with the great core in place around him.

But everyone has their limits. The Cardinals said they reached theirs in terms of what they could offer. Pujols said he didn’t hear the things that were important to him from the team he wanted to play his whole career for. A deal couldn’t be reached. Unlike the Field of Dreams, there was no storybook ending to this story.

I’m going to choose to take a position that may not be popular with many in Cardinal nation.

I believe and trust what Mozeliak and the Cardinals organization says.

I also believe and trust what Albert Pujols says.

I choose to believe Mozeliak that he and Dewitt made their best offer, and will continue to do what is best for the organization.

I choose to believe Albert Pujols that he wanted to stay a Cardinal, and was emotionally drained through the process. I believe him that he cried when he got the first Cardinals offer for 5 years and 130 million. It would be easy to say that he’s crazy not to be grateful for 26 million per year until he’s 37. But that’s  not what was important to Albert. Of course he wanted to get paid. But he was shocked the Cardinals would let him go back to free agency at 37 when he made it clear he wanted 10 years, and this to be his last contract.

He left a lot more money on the table from Florida. He got the years he wanted out of the deal from Anaheim. More than that, he felt wanted and not just a business risk/reward decision. Multiple times during the press conference, he talked about feeling a part of the “family”. He asked the Cardinals for a personal services contract after his playing days, and they were reluctant to give it.

And if you are wondering the source of all this information, please read this article by Joe Strauss of the Post Dispatch.

The Cardinals will be fine. I suspect they will win many more World Series in my lifetime. Mozeliak has my full trust and support to continue building a perennial contender. But it sure would have been nice to watch Albert hit home runs 500 and 600 in a Cardinal uniform. It sure would have been nice to see #5 on that outfield wall as a lifelong Cardinal.

The two sides just couldn’t get a deal done. Pujol’s perception of not feeling wanted and his requests not being heard became reality. Someone else was willing to listen more and give him what he was asking for. It wasn’t the storybook ending we all wanted. According to the Strauss article, it wasn’t the end he wanted.

Mozeliak and Dewitt are hard-nosed business men that handled negotiations as a business decision. They also took the wants of the fan base into account and stretched beyond what they thought the budget could handle in hopes of making a deal happen. The problem was, they continued to remind Pujols how much they were going beyond their budget to make it happen.

Arte Moreno handled the negotiations as Pujols was priority #1. He made it clear he would do whatever it took to get him signed. Moreno was greatly aided by 3 billion in revenue from a new television contract. The Cardinals were limited by being a much smaller market. Regardless, Moreno made Albert feel wanted. Whether it was perception or reality, the Angels made Albert feel more wanted than the Cardinals.  He signed the dotted line on their contract.

But if what Pujols is saying is true, he would have come back if initially offered a 10 year deal, a personal services contract at the end of the deal, AND felt like priority #1 for the organization (instead of a strain on the budget). Pujols said he went back to the Cardinals after the Angels offer. He wanted to get something done. Pujols and the Cardinals talked 8 times on Wednesday. Eight! How I would have loved to hear what went on in those meetings.

I’m not upset with Mozeliak or Dewitt. They did what they could, and handled negotiations as they thought was best. It just didn’t work out.

I don’t hate Albert Pujols. I choose to believe what he says. As a matter of fact, I actually felt sorry for him today during the interview when he kept fumbling through questions and getting things mixed up. Not sorry for the man who left town for the big money. Sorry for the guy who didn’t expect this to be happening. Tuesday afternoon he turned down 275 million from the Marlins and expected to be a Cardinal. Saturday afternoon he’s sitting at a press conference wearing an Angels jersey. I bet deep down he felt a lot of pain to look around and not see Yadier Molina, or Chris Carpenter, or Jose Oquendo. I know he also feels excitement at the challenges and opportunities with the Angels. Albert’s wife Deidre put it best, “There are only so many adjectives to describe the feeling. Broken-hearted and delighted, all at the same time.”

Although he accomplishes superhuman feats on the field, he is not a superhero. He’s a human who wrestled tremendously with the biggest decision of his life. He said he wanted to be a Cardinal forever. Under the right circumstances, I believe he would have been just that..

For all the quotes that have been thrown around calling Albert a hypocrite, think about how much has changed in your job in the last 2-3 years. Negotiations are never easy. If it was about the money, he would be in Florida.

I wish the story ended differently. I wish it was the Field of Dreams and a perfect Hollywood ending.

It hurts that Albert is gone. But I don’t hate him. As a matter of fact I’m going to miss him. A lot.


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