We don't like to feel susceptible.
Obviously, sometimes we are. And when it comes to sports we are so very much susceptible, especially in the moments after something big takes place.
I watched the end of the British Open Sunday morning. Phil Mickelson played his face off the last 4 holes and won his first British title. The award ceremony was very polite, made me feel like I was way underdressed (even though I was in a hotel room, not Muirfield) and highlighted some horrible dentistry – typical Brit stuff.
The very first thing – the very first – that Mike Tirico (ESPN announcer calling the tournament) mentioned was Phil's (now famous) lack of a US Open title win. It wasn't a neg on Phil. He was more wistfully thinking about next year's US Open and if Phil could pull that out, he'd have all 4 golf majors, putting him on a very exclusive list.
Harmless stuff on the surface. I think most people (especially casual golf watchers like myself) will be rooting for exactly that next June. But Phil was still in the background of the shot posing with his newly acquired trophy while everyone else was being taken down a well trodden "man, can Phil ever win the US Open" storyline.
I bring this up because of a sentence I read in Derek Goold's article about Brock Peterson being called up to the big leagues.
I'm paraphrasing here, but it was something like Peterson has been called up to the big leagues and will wear #41. It made me think about Pujols. And how that #5 is just sitting there on the shelf.
You're absolutly right. It's been 1.5 seasons since Albert left St. Louis. There are lots of other numbers that players can have if they want that aren't number 5.
But I also know that Pujols' Angels legacy has already been written.
Many things could happen in the next 8.5 seasons Albert spends in Anaheim. He could get fully healthy in 2014 and put up a vintage Albert season. He could be a part of a championship team or teams.
Popular opinion has decided that his failures are due to getting old, being over-paid for what he brings to the Angels this early in a bad contract and that the best hitter in baseball moniker is not just non-applicable, but buried forever. Even if the Angels start ripping off post-season appearances, Mike Trout will be the reason. Not the overpaid poster boys Pujols and Josh Hamilton.
Nope, Not fair at all.
But athletes need to be put into their proper places by fans. They need to be ranked, voted on and compared to each other with impunity. Nuance is very hard to find in today's world… it's ever less present in sports.
Go ask someone that's a sports fan who doesn't give a rip about the Cardinals what they think of Pujols. They're going to tell you one of those things above. They absolutely will.
Which brings us back to that #5.
Albert Pujols is one of the greatest Cardinals of all-time. There's little doubt in anyone's mind that if he'd had played 4-5 more seasons in St. Louis that he'd have surpassed Stan Musial in most people's mind as the champ of STL sports – however you would determine that for yourself. Even without those additional seasons, he's right there in the conversation for the second best ever.
If he'd had quit baseball before 2012, his number would be retired by the Cardinals right now. That's not debatable.
He didn't, though. He took the money and left for SoCal. Which is fine, but he did put the Cardinals in an odd position. Because he not only has left his iconic number behind… but he's taken every opportunity given to tell Cardinal fans that the reason he left wasn't them, but the cheap peckers in the front office.
The same guys and girls who decide to retire numbers. Or not.
All this is leading up to a question we can't answer now, but I am interested in seeing get played out.
I mean, I think the Cardinals would love to issue the number, but also know that a pretty hefty set of baggage is coming to a player if they get called up or traded to the team and they come out of the Cardinals dugout with the #5 on.
Or maybe they have plans in place that we don't know about. Maybe they know that 8.5 years is a long time and that they'll eventually make #5 officially retired… BUT what about that personal services contract Albert's got with the Angels for like 10 years after he's done playing?
Won't that make it weird?
Pujols thrilled us for more than a decade, but his choice to leave St. Louis has left some messy questions to deal with. Soon, though, people with more influence and less need to consider all sides will pick one and lead fans down that path. We'll start forming sides. Maybe it's soon. Maybe it's in years.
It's coming, though.
And we'll be susceptible, probably mores than ever, when it does.