Beyond the Bison: A Legacy-Defining Decision

By Julian Dorey

Columnist

As the cold winter readies to set in, the lights in ball parks are out. But the drama is in full force.

Every year, almost immediately after the World Series’ conclusion, baseball’s hot stove ignites. Baseball free agency is a much longer process than the signing periods in other sports. Every November, several of the game’s greats hit the MLB’s salary-capless market, with price tags that only get heftier as the years pass by.

This particular offseason is a historic one. Our generation’s greatest player—-a man who may have every right to consider himself equal among names like Ruth, DiMaggio, Williams, Mays and Aaron when his career comes to a close—-is there for the taking.

That man is Albert Pujols.

Pujols has a smooth right-handed swing that rivals any the game has ever seen, and has power that can place the ball into unprecedented territories of every stadium he visits. Pujols is a rare combination of top-tier power and gold-glove fielding. He might be a big manbut he can move and throw with the best of them at first base. Fans have watched him tear through the Major Leagues since 2001. His St. Louis Cardinals have won two World Series Championships during that span.

But the place he chooses to play this off-season may very well end up being what he is most remembered for. Will he be the loyal player and sign with the team that gave him his chance, the team he has already tasted victory with? Or will he be a typical 21st-century player and leave for another team with a bigger market?

He performed admirably for St. Louis for 10 years and delivered titles to the team. Cardinals fans can’t ask any more of Pujols.

Let’s be clear; this is not a LeBron James situation. Pujols is a not an attention-grabbing player with nothing on his mind but where his legacy will stack up among his sport’s greatest. In addition, St. Louis isn’t his hometown, nor has he failed to deliver them a championship trophy.

Pujols might not be concerned about his legacy like James, but his final decision in his free-agency process will be integral in how he will be rememberd 30 or 40 years from now.

It is easy to admire Pujols. In a baseball era that saw steroids destroy the very sanctity that made the game America’s pastime, never once was Pujols’ name implicated in the drug-abuse mess. It’s easy to forget that, sometimes. Pujols has many great qualities that are set to make him the highest-paid player in Major League history.

We live in an age where business rules sports. Where words like loyalty, legacy and love don’t seem to apply. In the end, the high and mighty dollar circulates through everyone’s minds. Unfortunately, as a result of professional sports’ current business models, it seems players don’t ever start and finish their careers in one place. At some point, an organization or a player seems to draw a line in the sand and move on.

It’s somewhat sad that great players now seem to divvy up their careers between two or three teams. What happened to men like John Elway, Bobby Clarke and Bill Russell in sports?

Those guys don’t really exist anymore—-and it’s a damn shame. For once, a player has a chance to buck the recent business-model trend and sign on to finish his career in one venue. That’s Albert Pujols.

Whatever decision he ultimately makes, he’ll most likely do it quietly. The money is out there everywhere he turns, including in St. Louis. I just hope that, for once, a professional athlete puts his personal business interests aside and makes the decision to ride into the sunlight wearing one uniform.

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