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Written by Harrison Milfeld (Contact & Archive) on February 19, 2011
Optimism. Frustration. Doubt. Panic.
Those four words are what come to mind when hearing the various opinions of St. Louis Cardinals fans as they learned at noon Wednesday that Albert Pujols, and the team he's called home for the past ten years, would suspend contract negotiations until the end of the 2011 season, thus becoming a free agent.
The comparisons to breakup between Cleveland and LeBron James begin to surface throughout the media, Twitterverse and other facets of social media. Now, let me just clarify that the last sentence seems a little unfair to both Cardinal fans and those still reeling in Cleveland, the reasons being that 1) We're dealing with two completely different scenarios in two different sports (and obviously different athletes and their egos) and 2) The consequences and aftermath will most likely be far apart in terms of comparison.
The above item itself is one of many being woven into a cavalcade of madness and irrational conclusions, all coming from Cardinal fans. Some of these fans believe Albert is showing his true colors (green, as opposed to Cardinal red) and that the final season of his current contract will be labeled as a lame-duck year, one greeted with jeers instead of cheers. The respected Albert Pujols was suddenly being crafted into a villain, despite the fact that he has not left for another destination...yet.
With that aside, what I'm getting into is this: The seemingly inevitable (and predictable) stoppage of contract talks between Pujols and the Cardinals front office has created a divide between a massive fanbase. Some of these arguments can be classified as compelling, while others can be described with the sense that Cardinal Nation isn't as classy as I once knew it.
Now, before I write any further, let it be noted that this piece of writing will not be filled with harsh or complimentary opinions toward Bill DeWitt Jr., John Mozeliak or Albert's agent, Don Lozano, nor will it be about what dollar amount it will take to re-sign the three-time National League MVP. I have no crystal ball so don't expect an analysis of Albert's demands.
My thoughts will be directed at the general direction of Cardinal Nation, a fanbase that at times I feel proud to be a part of, while other times I question its respectability. I am also writing from the perspective of a Cardinals fan and avid baseball fan, one who his trying his best to retain his sanity in the midst of the aptly titled, Albertageddon.
While trying to drown out the dribble that ESPN had created, I saw a Facebook status of a friend of mine -- "If I hear any more about Albert Pujols, I'm going to scream. Let the greedy jerk go somewhere else... he's playing baseball, not curing cancer."
Like the anonymous personal thoughts above, many Cardinal fans formed their own staunch opinions. Some of these were displayed on various social media outlets and ranged from thoughtful to grammatically insane. I won't bother listing these comments, mainly because I have so little to write here, and they all have one thing in common: fans are either disowning Albert as a member of their team or finding an excuse to label him as a fraud. Prematurely, I might add.
As mentioned, some have declared allegiance to one side or the other: Team Pujols or Team DeWitt/Mozeliak. Has it really to this? Creating a dividing line that will ultimately emerge as a civil war amongst Cardinal fans. The fact that there is a possibility of fans booing No. 5 come opening day makes me die a little inside. It goes against conventional wisdom and what Cardinal fans stand for. It's as if fans forgot he's under contract for 2011 or that we were fortunate to be blessed with his presence for this long.
Don't get me wrong. I understand that we are dealing with a record-breaking contract extension to a once-in-a-generation ballplayer. It's all business, and any amount of backlash or harassment to a player who has done so much to a team and his community is un-called for.
Listen, the possibility of a life without Pujols as a St. Louis Cardinal is a scary thought. I and many others have dealt with heartbreak when it comes to a city's superstar departing for greener pastures. The player? Brett Hull, when he left the St. Louis Blues in 1998.
But, that's a whole different story. The point is that despite the many theories and supposed reports of why Albert has not signed a contract extension, we're forgetting the most important matter at hand: the 2011 Cardinals season. We can call this upcoming season a lot of things (The Pujols/La Russa Goodbye Tour, Albertageddon Pt. 2), but focusing our frustrations and anger toward Albert won't do any good. Fans would only be adding more fuel to the collective fire that is Albert's contract negotiations. Overall, it would be bad publicity and be a premature notion to make a humble man such as Albert a false villain.
Earlier, I mentioned how optimism, frustration, doubt and panic were words used to describe Cardinal Nation's thoughts on this mess. As a fanbase, we knew this day would come. It was just a matter of time before the allegiances were made and anti-Albert jeers become just another echo in the open air of Busch Stadium.
Again, the purpose of this essay was to evaluate Cardinals fans and why booing seemingly Stan Musial incarnate makes me ashamed of the fanbase I belong to. The man certainly doesn't deserve it, even if some feel the need to panic early if Cubbie blue is in his foresight.
With or without Albert Pujols in the lineup in 2012, the St. Louis Cardinals organization will still be relevant. The team has been in the public eye years before Albert was even a thought. Life will go on. You can argue attendance figures, TV viewership and overall team performance would dip; however, last time I checked television revenue may help with payroll, but it certainly doesn't win championships every year.
As the dust settles from this media circus, I look forward to seeing (and probably dying a little inside) Cardinal fans state their emotions toward Albert as he steps up to the plate each home game. It will be difficult to register if it happens, but the Cardinal faithful should take a hard look at their fandom.
I hope for Albert Pujols to stay a Cardinal for the rest of his career, but I'm not willing to waste my breath harassing a man who has brought so many memories to me and baseball fans across the country for more than a decade. Until then, my allegiance does not lie with Team Pujols or Team DeWitt/Mozeliak. It resides with one team: the St. Louis Cardinals.