October 31, 2011

An Open Letter to the St. Louis Cardinals and Albert Pujols: Gentlemen, Please Make a Deal

This post is as much about business, leadership, legacy and community as it is about baseball. It’s been on my mind for months, and honestly, like every Cardinals’ fan, I expected the season to be over and to be posting this on September 30th. What an amazing and totally unexpected month October has been for the St. Louis baseball fan!

Full Disclosure:  I am a transplanted New Yorker who grew up rooting for the “Pond Scum” Mets. I spent most of the 80’s cringing as Whitey would out-manage Davey Johnson at every turn in a game. So not being a native of this most interesting town, I cannot answer the obligatory question: “Where did you go high school?”  And frankly, I’ve just accepted after 20 years, that if you are not from here, then you are not from here. Having said that, I love St. Louis, The Fox, Ted Drewes and our world-class zoo! I have enjoyed two decades as part of Cardinal Nation, am raising three kids here and want the best for this community.

To Albert, the greatest player of the past eleven years, and to the eleven-time World Champion Cardinals, I make this one request: Gentlemen, Please Make a Deal!

To the Cardinals Owners:  In the short time I’ve lived here, St. Louis has lost dozens of flagship business headquarters including the likes of McDonnell Douglass, TWA, The May Company, Southwestern Bell, Edison Brothers, Pet Foods, and many others, including most recently, Anheuser Busch. We have seen several major auto manufacturing plants close, and what was the “main terminal” at our airport is an embarrassing ghost town compared to most major cities. Let’s not even get into the new billion dollar new runway that barely has a tire mark on it. Our town has unique race issues, a bizarre city-county divide and an old-school parochial business environment that is difficult to even explain to folks in other cities. Just this past week, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch published a dire piece declaring that St. Louis could slip deeper into economic irrelevance if the right decisions are not made in the next two years.

The Cardinals are a very bright light in this community and a source of great civic pride. For eleven years, Albert Pujols has been a model of consistency and high-performance. Aside from the discomfort brought on by the looming free agency, and running through a few of Jose Oquendo’s stop signs at third-base, Albert has been the premier contributor to this premier organization. Frankly, you’ve had him on the cheap – almost shamefully so – over the past few years. The fact that Albert hasn’t even been the highest paid player on the Cardinals is just flat out wrong. You had the bargain of a lifetime.  You’ve known it and gladly profited from it. You have had two full years to secure a long-term deal before the greatest active player hit the free agent market and you didn’t get it done. So now, while we are still intoxicated from the 2011 World Series, you have one last chance to make a deal in private before the bidding begins.

Please consider what is at stake. Think about this entire generation of baseball fans and the opportunity to lock up the greatest player of our time for the balance of his hall of fame career. Consider your legacy as owners. Would it be wrong to ask you to think about the St. Louis community and what keeping Albert here would mean for the well-being of this city? You were blessed to purchase a team with the most loyal fan-base in baseball. Thank you for leading this organization well and continuing to put a great product on the field. Clearly, you made a great investment and have realized tremendous appreciation in the value of the franchise.

Today, I am asking you to act in the best interest of your customers, the loyal hometown fans who bought your seat licenses, park in your lots, pack 3 million fannies into your seats and spend $9.00 for a Bud Light. Make a deal with Number 5. Lock up the greatest player most of us have even seen. Let’s keep the birds on the bat on Albert’s chest. Can the Cardinals survive without Albert? Absolutely, particularly in light of this championship. But why would you want to prove that? Do what is right for the city, for your customers and for the value of your investment. Keep him a Cardinal.

To Albert:  You are the greatest player I’ve had the privilege of watching in 35 years as a baseball fan. Thank you for your efforts on and off the field. You have been loved and adored by fans in St. Louis, and even as it seems like you’ve pulled away from us emotionally this year, you have received nothing but support. We understand that this is your livelihood and it is a business. The incredible eleven years you’ve strung together have earned you a paycheck most of us can’t even fathom. I want you to enjoy that payday because, frankly, you deserve it.

Albert, the big question I want to ask is whether you would rather have the biggest contract in history or whether you’d rather be known as the greatest ballplayer of all time? At some point, beyond ego, the specifics on a contract this big really don’t mean anything. In a practical sense, is $26 million for seven years any different than $23 million for nine years?  Honestly, aside from how you feel about it, does it really matter? Unlimited Bentleys, homes, generations of wealth and a charitable foundation with enormous capacity to do great things for those in need. Let’s be honest: it’s not about the money at this point.

You have the opportunity to build a legacy as the greatest player to play for one of the most storied franchises in baseball. You can stay in a very friendly town where you are loved and revered. You can continue to build into this community and plant deep roots that will benefit many for years to come. For all the goofiness of the St. Louis business climate, the baseball climate is second to none. You know that. Carp, Berkman, Holliday, heck, every major leaguer knows it. Baseball heaven, isn’t that what it’s called? You now have two World Series rings and could further cement your legacy by winning a few more here in St. Louis. I don’t see that happening as a Cub, do you? Hard to picture you playing in front of 3800 fans a night as a Florida Marlin.

Albert, no one, not one person, not one fan, nor one ballplayer will think one iota less of you for accepting a smaller deal to stay here in St. Louis. Quite the contrary, many will think more of you. Everyone knows someone will outbid the Cardinals for your services. So what? Is it worth the risk to make ten or fifteen percent more money?  I am afraid that only your agent would say yes to that.

El Hombre, be El Hombre. Sit down with Mozeliak and the owners and Make a Deal. It is the best thing for you, the best thing for your legacy and the best thing for YOUR team the Cardinals, and the absolute best thing for the St. Louis community.

Gentlemen, we are hoping you surprise us all and Make a Deal. We will all be incredibly grateful forever…and we think you will be grateful too!