Is it bad for baseball if Albert Pujols leaves St. Louis?
Throughout the lead-up to Pujols' free agency and the courtship between he and his former team, the St. Louis Cardinals, I always had the sense that there was a lot of postering going on on both sides of the negotiating table and that Pujols would inevitably be back in Cardinal red next season. After all the league's biggest spenders--the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox--have first baseman in Mark Teixeira and Adrian Gonzalez respectively who are locked up for quite a while.
But with today's development I'm not so sure. The Marlins seem to have learned from the Miami Heat and are pursuing a mega-team centered around a few stars--Hanley Ramirez, Jose Reyes and perhaps, Pujols. For me, this is something I expect from the NBA, thanks to it's smaller rosters and reliance on individual skills, but not Major League Baseball. Yes, you could argue the Yankees have assembled all-star rosters, but I don't think it is on the same level as the NBA conglomerations.
Call me a traditionalist (albeit a young one), but this makes me sad. I don't want to see Albert Pujols in teal. A player of his caliber, that has meant as much to a sports town as Pujols has (2 World Series rings), should be a redbird for his whole career. Just as George Brett was a Royal, and Robin Yount a Brewer and going back further, Mickey Mantle was a Yankee, Albert Pujols is a Cardinal. If St. Louis, the team with the second-most World Series titles of all time, can't hold on to its stars, what does that say for the rest of the league?
There is no simple answer to that question. Sure when Stan Musial was a Cardinal there wasn't free agency and players weren't afforded their free market rights. And it is completely understandable for Pujols to want to go to the highest bidder--no one needs an economics degree to understand that.
Sure you can say that Pujols should give the Cardinals a hometown discount, and yes, there are players who have done that, but it's hard to expect a player to.
Players leaving smaller markets for larger markets is nothing new. In fact, it's a surprise when players buck that trend. It is also why smaller market teams try to buy out arbitration years with long-term deals. But frankly, Kansas City Royals fans probably know that their time to enjoy Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas is now, because once they are free agents, they are goners.
But this isn't about small market versus big market. Heck, I root for the New York Yankees and love that they spend money like it's going out of style. I'd rather it be used on the team than end up burning a hole in a Steinbrenner pocket.
Instead this is about tradition. There is a certain class of players that you sense an aura about them--they are the ones dads tell their sons to watch especially closely because they do everything fundamentally correctly on a baseball diamond. Cities deserve those every now and again. Kansas City had Brett, Milwaukee had Yount, Philadelphia had Mike Schmidt, San Diego had Tony Gwynn, Baltimore had Cal Ripken Jr. and New York has Derek Jeter. They weren't going anywhere, and neither should Pujols.
But, alas, there are other factors. Egos, money, business. Maybe Pujols will end up in Miami, but count me in the group that hopes otherwise.