I don’t think that I want to meet any of the icons. I don’t think that anybody can quite live up to your expectations. -Jane Horrocks
My first brush with watching a player I enjoyed leave my favorite team was 1997. David Justice was my favorite player in a Braves uniform and I remember the day he was traded, after a 1996 season that saw him sidelined with a shoulder injury, but I didn’t really understand it. This of course was after Dale Murphy was allowed to leave in 1992 to free agency to the rival Phillies. Both of those didn’t have as great an impact on me because while they were great players for the Braves, one was slightly before my time and the other didn’t stay long enough to really feel like he was going to play in a Braves uniform forever.
Then came the offseason of 2002.Tom Glavine’s exodus.
When Tom Glavine, two-time Cy Young award winner and World Series MVP, left for the New York Mets I was crushed. I was upset. I wanted to see him get beat every time the Braves (or anyone else for that matter) played against him. Yet part of me didn’t really feel that way. I was still appreciative of the eight innings of one-run ball he pitched on October 28, 1995 to give the Braves their first World Series title in Atlanta. I never forgot those moments and I think, as a fan, sometimes that is the hardest part. You never want those moments to go away. Especially not due to the business side of the game.
I’ve got a theory about iconic sports figures in a city. Today, such a thing is so rare that it could be placed in the realm of historic feats in sports. It used to be commonplace to stay where you were raised. You built a bond with teammates, fans and community. You were as synonymous with the city as any of its historical landmarks and that meant something to a player. Try imagining George Brett, Cal Ripken Jr., or Tony Gwynn in another uniform without immediately thinking afterwards “but he IS that franchise, that city.” It was a sense of pride to stay someplace your whole career. It Meant they gave their all to a fan base that gave them everything.
Albert Pujols was that everything to the modern day St. Louis Cardinals fan. From the time he broke onto the scene, to the accolades, to the two World Series championships he guided the franchise to in his tenure there he meant a lot to this franchise. There was always conversations and debate of how far he could have climbed in the Cardinals hierarchy of legends. Could he have conceivably passed Stan “The Man” Musial? Could Bob Gibson become an afterthought? Now that he is gone, those won’t even be questions. He’ll continue building his legacy in Orange County for another city and fan base.
In St. Louis the question will inevitably be “what’s next?” You won’t care that the Cardinals picked up anyone else as long as Albert Pujols is putting up numbers in a box score. Trust me, you will always check their box score to see how he did on a given night. You won’t mean to do it. Sometimes you won’t even know you’re doing it. You just will. Mostly because you remember all the times he used to do the same thing right there in your town. You will curse him out loud for sure, but deep down you won’t mean it. You wouldn’t have two World Series titles and three pennants without him so how could you turn your back on the guy?
Don’t try to find someone else to blame. Trust me it doesn’t work. John Schuerholz was meat in my mind for two years after Glavine left for the Mets. it wasn’t his fault. Then I turned my fan anger towards Glavine and that didn’t work either. Even if the amount of money he left for was “just eight million dollars and one year” it is STILL eight million dollars. Gun to our heads we wouldn’t have left that on the table either. Plain and simple. So don’t blame the Cardinals front office because $220 million dollars is a lot of money. Unfortunately $260 million dollars is more. While it is fun to let the good times continue to roll in St. Louis, $40 million dollars and that Southern California weather will buy you a lot more good times. This isn’t to be insensitive but, again, I ask would you leave that money on the table? Especially knowing you were getting everything you wanted and playing for another class organization? just a thought.
St. Louis you will be fine. Ten years from now you will do what should be done. You will bring Albert back and place his number where it rightfully belongs. Next to other Cardinals greats who made a meaningful contribution to your organization. Atlanta did it, Green Bay will do it with Favre, Seattle will do it with Griffey and as mad or hurt as you might be so will St. Louis. 15 years from now when Pujols is giving his induction speech at Cooperstown he will brandish all the praise in the world on you for being “the best fans in baseball.” You will be there too. Remembering a 21-year old kid who broke onto the scene with 37 home runs in his first year, and then went on to hit many, many, many more after that. You will remember those times and so will he. In the end it will all work.
For now, though, I don’t scoff at your bitterness. I don’t mock you for looking at him like a traitor.I know how you feel and I won’t blame you for it. Just get used to uttering these two words until all is forgiven: