Happiness For King Al Carries Heavy Price Tag
Commentary By Dave Lomonico
Andy MacPhail called Alex Rodriguez's 10-year, $252 million contract the worst signing in baseball history, but it looks as if the Orioles' president of player personnel will have to revise that statement before the year is out.
The St. Louis Cardinals and their slugging first baseman, Albert Pujols, reached an impasse on contract talks when the latter demanded a deal that would make A-Rod's look like ... well, not quite peanuts, but cashews. Pujols, who is one of the best players of the era, is seeking a 10-year, $300 million extension that has front-office types, owners and fans crying foul.
The dollar amount itself looks downright absurd to hard-working Americans out there, but that's not even the immediate ethical concern. What's most unsettling is King Albert's "armour proper" is directly tied to his financial well-being. In other words, it isn't good enough he's the best player in the game -- he has to be the best paid, too. Otherwise, Pujols ain't happy.
Why is it that money always determines self-satisfaction?
The French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who coined the term armour proper, said civil men were constantly driven to compare and compete with one another in a society in which wealth and greed reign supreme. Rarely are we content with what we already have.
But it doesn't have to be that way.
If Pujols made slightly less than A-Rod, it shouldn't mean he's a lesser player. You don't need to be versed in any of those fancy Sabremetrics to see that.
But by demanding $30 million a year, he's sending a message to the fans, his teammates and the organization that he's bigger than the St. Louis Cardinals. Yes, Pujols is the King for a reason, but without coaches, scouts and 24 other red-clad baseball players, where would he be (insert Pittsburgh Pirates joke here)?
I'm not saying Pujols should take a massive pay cut. Ultimately, he should get what he's worth relative to the rest of baseball. Everyone, regardless of profession, deserves that kind of respect. But to demand a salary almost $27 million more per year than the league average, according to the Associated Press, is downright dishonorable.
By taking, say, $22 million a year, which is around what the Cardinals were offering, Pujols would still be one of the top three highest-paid players in the game. Moreover, his "generosity" would engender a deeper respect among all parties, namely the people who come see him play.
"Look," Cards fans could say, "he gave us a hometown discount. Loyalty means something to him. He's just like Stan the Man."
In terms of true, long-term fulfillment, could there be a better compliment? Stan Musial played his entire 22-year career in St. Louis and is still one of the most beloved figures in the city's history. No material or monetary gains can match that kind of bond.
Pujols has a chance to stand on equal footing with 'ol Stash -- but only if he stays. Otherwise, he's just another hired gun, no different than the majority of players who value their wallets more than relationships.
Give A-Rod some truth serum and ask whether he would have been happier staying in Seattle. Sure, the New York penthouse and the celebrity hookups are nice, but eventually, that superficial life will end. And then what's left? An ambivalent New York fan base that will never put his name alongside those of Derek Jeter, Mickey Mantle, Lou Gehrig, Babe Ruth and Joe DiMaggio.
Of course, Pujols' PR machine will drop the usual rhetoric about how his contract would raise all the salaries in baseball (because heaven forbid the utility infielder only makes $450 K a year). But don't believe the perceived altruism; this isn't about the little guy. This is about the King himself and all his personal pleasantries. (I take that back if the players' union really did strong-arm Pujols as Tony LaRussa suggested).
After the PR guys smooth things over, Pujols' agent will feed more rigmarole about how short careers are. He'll tell how poor Albert, who has already made more than 99 percent of America will in a lifetime, needs to get all he can while he's young.
Then he'll point out how the Cardinals are making Bill Gates-type money off his good name. He'll tell how MLB sells Pujols jerseys faster than Target sells Hanes T-shirts, how TV stations use his classic home-run swing for personal promotions and how memorabilia dealers stay in business thanks to his signature.
Most of that is probably true, but does Pujols really need $300 million to justify it?
Not really. But his ego does.
Issue 159: March 2011