Albert Pujols could have been a wealthy Cardinal for life, planning for the day his statue would be erected outside Busch Stadium next to those of Stan Musial, Bob Gibson and the other St Louis greats.
Instead, exactly six weeks after leading the Cardinals to a second title in one of the most thrilling World Series ever, he decided to accept the second-highest contract in Major League Baseball history for a new future in southern California with the Los Angeles Angels.
The three-time National League MVP agreed on Thursday to a US$254 million, 10-year contract with the Angels, leaving behind a heartbroken fan base by jilting one of MLB’s traditional teams for an expansion club with only one championship in its half-century.
For MLB, it was a virtually unprecedented move.
Many top stars have changed teams in their careers, from Babe Ruth, to Willie Mays and Barry Bonds. However, this is perhaps the best player in the game during the past decade exiting shortly after one of the great postseason power shows.
A big and burly offensive force with a shaved head, the nine-time All-Star has a room full of honors, winning the 2001 NL rookie of the year award, NL MVPs in 2005, 2008 and 2009, a batting title in 2003 and a pair of Gold Gloves at first base. Who would have predicted that when the Cardinals selected him in the 13th round of the 1999 amateur draft with the 402nd overall selection?
And now, he is going west.
As his deal fell into place on the final day of the winter meetings, the Angels struck another big agreement, a US$77.5 million, five-year contract with left-hander C.J. Wilson, the ace whose Texas Rangers lost to the Cardinals in the seven-game World Series.
“This is obviously the moment where we have thrown our hat in the ring,” new Angels manager Jerry Dipoto said.
Had he stayed in St Louis before packed, adoring crowds, Pujols would have established a Cal Ripken-like legacy of loyalty — a rare modern star who remained with a franchise from his first at-bat to his final swing.
Instead, some of his former fans will see him as a sellout.
Pujols rejected a multiyear extension last offseason that was said to include a small percentage of the franchise and cut off negotiations a day before he arrived at spring training. St Louis also offered the slugger a 10-year deal that chairman Bill DeWitt Jr said was in excess of US$200 million.
“I would like our fans to know that we tried our best to make Albert a lifetime Cardinal,” DeWitt said in a statement, adding later in a telephone interview: “They were substantially higher than our bid.”
In St Louis, Pujols has accomplished so much that he would have been beloved no matter his future performance. However, in Anaheim, he will have to prove himself anew.
Pujols’ contract, which like Wilson’s is subject to a physical, is only the third to break the US$200 million barrier, following Alex Rodriguez’s US$252 million, 10-year deal with Texas before the 2001 season and A-Rod’s US$275 million, 10-year agreement with the New York Yankees before the 2008 season.
Pujols became the first player to hit 30 home runs in his first 11 seasons and the second after Al Simmons (1924-1934) to reach 100 RBIs in his first 10. He has a .338 average with 445 home runs and 1,329 RBIs to become a franchise icon second only to Musial, and is fourth in career slugging percentage at .617, trailing only Hall of Famers Ruth (.690), Ted Williams (.634) and Lou Gehrig (.632).