LLOYD GRAY: Memories will have to suffice

By Lloyd Gray | NEMS Daily Journal

A truism is that when you lose something, it’s best to focus on gratitude for the time you had it rather than on regret for having lost it. Otherwise, “moving on” is hard if not impossible.
That’s the attitude that St. Louis Cardinals fans, including the many here in Northeast Mississippi, must take about the departure of the great Albert Pujols after 11 years of unparalleled excellence on the baseball field.
Albert broke our naive little hearts last week when he turned down a very generous contract extension offer from the Cardinals and bolted for even more money from the Los Angeles Angels. We actually thought he meant it when he said it wasn’t about the money, that he really wanted to be a Cardinal for life, and that the fans who had showered unqualified adoration on him – not to mention paying ever-increasing ticket prices to pay his salary – meant something in the equation.
But of course, he turned out to be like virtually everyone else in sports these days, succumbing to avarice. The Cardinals offered him between $21 million and $22 million a year for 10 years, until age 42. That wasn’t enough. The Angels laid $25 million on the table. The extra $3-4 million a year – what does it really matter when you get that high in the stratosphere? – was enough to stiff the devoted fans and city that had embraced him and to sully his reputation as someone whose value system had not been totally corrupted by fame and wealth.
Pujols said all along that the Lord was guiding him. He said the Angels touched his “soul.” Please.
This was about money and ego, pure and simple. Somewhere along the way the Cardinals organization did something that he took as disrespect, and Pujols was out to show them up – to quantify his value, to satisfy his need for worldly affirmation. In doing so, ironically, he lost his standing as a unique sports icon.
Yes, loyalty is absent everywhere in sports these days. Just take a look at all the college football coaches bolting for greener pastures. But they’ve at least got the excuse that there’s little loyalty coming their way either, with unreasonably high expectations for winning the norm.
Pujols had no such excuse. The Cardinals organization and the team’s fans would have still cheered his every plate appearance, even as he moved into his declining years and was paid far more than his production would have merited.
The Angel fans may not be so patient and appreciative. Why? Because they won’t have the reservoir of memories that Cardinal fans would draw from every time they saw Albert come to the plate.
That’s what’s left: The wave of memories of watching one of the great talents in baseball history play the game as very few have.
Cardinal fans will never feel the same about Albert Pujols. But because of those memories, they may find it in their broken hearts to forgive him.
Lloyd Gray is executive editor of the Daily Journal. Contact him at (662) 678-1579 or lloyd.gray@journalinc.com.

Click video to hear audio