JACKSON, Tenn. (BP) — The hardest part about hearing that Albert Pujols was leaving the St. Louis Cardinals was the knowledge that I’d have to break the news to my 8-year-old son.
Like me, Daniel is a big-time fan of Pujols and the Cardinals. Unlike his dad, he’s never known baseball or the Cardinals without Pujols. The Cardinals and Pujols are practically synonymous for him.
So when I called to tell him that Pujols was going to be playing for the Los Angeles Angels and not for the Cardinals anymore, Daniel cried. I was half expecting that, but it was painful nonetheless. I’m sure thousands of other dads in Cardinal Nation had similar encounters with their kids after the news broke Thursday.
Cardinals fans had long feared that this day was coming — a day when Pujols, the greatest player of his generation, would leave behind the only team he had known for richer pastures elsewhere. He could have chosen to stay in St. Louis and become one of the city’s greatest heroes. He could have cemented his legacy forever, regardless of how he performed on the field over the life of his contract.
But in the end, the opportunity offered by the Angels was more important to Pujols. Los Angeles offered him a 10-year contract worth $254 million, compared to the St. Louis offer of about $30-$40 million less.
While it’s easy for St. Louis fans to hurl charges of greed and disloyalty against Pujols, who is a dedicated Christian, the fact remains that the Angels offered him not just a little more, but substantially more than the Cardinals did. Money talks for all of us, and most people in their lives have left one job for another largely because of the cash. I’m guessing that many of us, if faced with a decision similar to Pujols’, would have done exactly as he did, despite our protests to the contrary. Millionaires don’t have a monopoly on the desire for more money than they already have.
On the other hand, the thing that irked a lot of St. Louis fans was Pujols’ own insistence that he wasn’t motivated by the money. Consider his own words: “Do I want to be in St. Louis forever? Of course,” Pujols said in February 2009. “People from other teams want to play in St. Louis and they’re jealous that we’re in St. Louis because the fans are unbelievable. So why would you want to leave a place like St. Louis to go somewhere else and make $3 or $4 more million a year? It’s not about the money. I already got my money. It’s about winning and that’s it.”
It’s possible that Pujols changed his mind about the importance of the money between then and now. He’s free to do that. But whether he indeed changed his mind, or whether his words at the time were simply hollow, is certainly up for debate.
I’m sure other factors were in play besides the money. Los Angeles offers an aging Pujols the possibility to finish his career as a designated hitter if a deteriorating body keeps him from playing in the field. He wouldn’t have had such a luxury in St. Louis. And maybe Pujols, who has been dogged by nagging injuries over his career, knows that his body is wearing down. Who could blame him for wanting to lengthen his playing days as much as possible?
Then there’s the benevolent causes Pujols has been faithful to support with his money so far, and will undoubtedly continue to support in the future. He has proven himself to be a generous man, and that’s exactly the kind of person I want to have more money — because his resources are a blessing to countless others.
So I’m thankful for the 11 seasons Pujols spent in St. Louis and the memories he provided Cardinals fans like me over the years. Even in his departure, I’m grateful that he gave me an excellent opportunity to talk to my son about the nature of money, the allure of riches and the futility of putting our hope in people to do what we want them to do.
As I’ve heard many times, the best of men are men at best. Pujols’ decision allowed me to have a great conversation with my son about the things that indeed are more important than money, and to ultimately point Daniel to Christ — the only one with whom he will never be disappointed.
Tim Ellsworth, director of news and media relations at Union University, is co-author of “Pujols: More Than the Game.”