With so many ballplayers not named Albert Pujols snagging jackpots this winter in the $140-million range, it would seem to me to beg the question that I am surprised I haven’t heard from the vast horde of sportswriters: Is Prince Albert going to be the first $200-Million Man?
If a bunch of admittedly wonderful players – Jason Werth, Carl Crawford, Cliff Lee, Derek Jeter, et al. can command contracts in that giddy stratosphere, where does that leave Pujols? Hopefully, in St. Louis.
(Pujols artwork by Michael Joseph)
He’ll be all of 31 years old by the time things get underway next spring, and it’s pretty cool to realize that he already has his Hall of Fame plaque. There always has been two rungs of Hall of Famers anyway; Pujols is just a reminder that even in these dreary times when the business of baseball seemingly tries to grab the spotlight from all the magic that still happens between the lines, there are still guys that rank up there in the great immortality debate.
Just as Babe Ruth, Honus Wagner, Ty Cobb, Christy Mathewson and Cy Young are not quite the same thing as Rabbit Maranville, Rick Ferrell and Joe Tinker, Pujols has long since separated himself from any of his contemporaries. Maybe he should get two plaques.
Actually, that’s not as fanciful as it sounds. One of the many reasons I like Pujols so much is that he reminds me of a ballplayer from another era that I admire even more: Henry Aaron.
The parallels between the two giants are considerable, but to me the most noteworthy is the amazing consistency in their statistics from year to year. The second element I find so fascinating is that with Aaron, you could slice his career roughly in half and award him a HOF plaque for both ends.
Assuming that you’ll be able to make the same observation about Pujols in 2020 or so, doesn’t that suggest that the $200-million price tag sounds ever more reasonable?
And I’ve got to admit that Prince Albert is even ahead of King Henry in the consistency department. If you compare their first 10 years, the differences aren’t dramatic, but Pujols does have a higher batting average, good bumps in RBI’s and runs, about 60 more home runs and, most significantly, nearly 400 more walks. And he topped the .300 mark in every season, 100 RBI’s every year and won three MVP Awards (the guy who won the Award from 2001-04 may have had a pharmaceutical assist).
As my ex-wife used to say, past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior, so isn’t it likely that the expectations for Pujols over the next decade are enormous?
Maybe the Cardinals can figure out a way to cobble together enough millions to prevent Pujols from ever testing the free-agent waters. Here’s an idea: why not consider deferring a bunch of the money way into the future?
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Which leads me into a Pujols linkage with another figure from baseball’s past that is a good deal more incongruous: Bobby Bonilla.
I’d remembered that the Mets took a major hosing with their free-agent largesse to the underachieving (with the Mets, anyway) outfielder/infielder, but I guess I’d forgotten just how outrageous the hosing was.
In a bit of executive malfeasance that has to rank right up there with shipping Babe Ruth down Interstate 95 from Boston to the Yankees, the Mets clever general manager at the time, Steve Phillips, agreed to a deferred $5.9 million buyout in 2000 as the Mets labored to free themselves from the Bonilla burden.
So the payments would run for 25 years starting next year, with my guys in Flushing shelling out all of $1.2 million per year until 2036. An agreed-upon 8 percent interest rate worked out pretty well for the ballplayer. If I were Bobby Bonilla, I think I’d have likely spent the last 11 years giggling and probably the next 25 as well.
The good news is that I’ll be dead and won’t have to be around to witness that final payment.
Let’s go Mets.