by Aaron Rife
So it’s 2011 and yet another long-time team member leaves their only known employer behind for greener (literally) pastures. Immediately people want to turn to “The Decision” and LeBron James and how it decimated a franchise and try to compare Pujols leaving the Cardinals to LeBron leaving Cleveland. The comparison should stop at “big name free agent leaves original team for a different team” because that’s the only way they are similar.
There are a myriad of differences between the two situations with the majority insinuating that LeBron leaving Cleveland was much, much worse than Pujols leaving St. Louis. For starters, basketball and baseball are two different sports. Losing one guy in baseball doesn’t hurt a team nearly as bad as in basketball. Minus Pujols the poor Cardinals are left with Chris Carpenter, Adam Wainwright, Matt Holliday, NLCS and WS MVP (and local boy) David Freese, Lance Berkman, Yadier Molina, Jaime Garcia and a loaded bullpen. When LeBron left Cleveland they had to pick up the pieces with Mo Williams, Antawn Jamison, Delonte West, Jamario Moon, J.J. Hickson, Boobie Gibson, and Anderson Varejao. (Dis)Advantage: James
Cleveland is no St. Louis. LeBron James literally created businesses in downtown Cleveland. Local restaurants and sports bars flourished during King James reign. They’ve never had a better chance to be relevant than when he was in rule. Yet they lost with him as they did, and will continue to do without him. St. Louis, on the other hand, won 2 WS with Pujols and 9 without him. St. Louis is a baseball town; they always have been and always will be. (Dis)Advantage: James
Pujols ended his Cardinal career by winning a championship. LeBron ended his Cavs career by outright quitting on his teammates on the biggest stage. (Dis)Advantage: James
The biggest difference is the way each player went about leaving his team. We all know how LeBron’s free agency played out: He hooked in other teams, made it all about him, and ended up with the worst display of egotism the sports world has ever seen (The Decision). There is no excuse for openly dumping your long time girlfriend in front of a national audience. Pujols went about this offseason quietly. You heard other teams possibly had a shot at him but you never heard a word out of Pujols. He went about his business and took the best offer. (Dis)Advantage: James
Finally, there’s only one way where the Pujols signing looks worse than LeBron’s. Pujols left for more money. LeBron left to win a championship. Yeah LeBron took the easy way out in teaming up with a couple more All-Star caliber players and didn’t do enough to try and get star players to join him but if that’s not his personality, can we really fault him for that? He’s not a leader and doesn’t seem to want that responsibility. Pujols accomplished everything he could during his tenure in St. Louis: 2 World Series, 3 MVPs, and 11 consecutive seasons of playing at Ruthian levels. There was nothing left for him to prove so he took the money. (Dis)Advantage: Pujols
The worst thing about Pujols leaving is that the Cardinal fans that have supported him for all of these years will miss out on every one of the milestones he’s sure to hit: 500HR, 600HR, 700HR, 763HR, 3,000 hits, 2298 RBIs, 793 doubles all could now be reached in a different uniform after the majority were accumulated in front of St. Louis fans. I guess they can take solace in the fact that when he gets in to Cooperstown he should go in as a Cardinal. (Dis)Advantage: Fans
St. Louis fans are smart enough baseball fans that I don’t think they will boo Pujols, and they shouldn’t. He played as hard as he could every year he was under contract (a low salary for his services at that). He never once complained about needing more money or needing better players around him. In that sense, it proves that management can be as much to blame as a player leaving as anything else. If you have a star you have to show that you are committed too giving them the resources they need to bring home a championship. St. Louis did that and got 11 great years out of a once-in-a-generation player and 2 World Series rings. Cleveland didn’t and got a few playoff runs and a disgruntled employee who bolted at the first sight of freedom.