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Jason Fry and Greg Prince
Faith and Fear in Flushing made its debut on Feb. 16, 2005, the brainchild of two longtime friends and lifelong Met fans.

Greg Prince discovered the Mets when he was 6, during the magical summer of 1969. He is a Long Island-based writer, editor and communications consultant. Contact him here.

Jason Fry is a Brooklyn writer whose first memories include his mom leaping up and down cheering for Rusty Staub. Check out his other writing here.

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Stay Albert Stay

Except for my standard-issue human blood and my mother’s accusations that I harbored “Bolshevik” sympathies as a nine-year-old McGovernite, you won’t find a drop of red in me. No Cardinal red, certainly. Ptui! on the 1985 Cardinals. Ptui! on the 1987 Cardinals. Ptui! on the Best Fans In Baseball. A Niagara Falls of loogies on Yadier Molina, obviously.

And yet, I don’t want Albert Pujols to leave the Cardinals. Not even for the pipe dream of seeing Albert Pujols pull up stakes from St. Louis and put them down for some strange reason in Flushing do I want to see Albert Pujols leave the Cardinals.

This is pure baseball fan romanticism at work. This isn’t Albert Pujols exercising the freedom of movement Marvin Miller labored so hard to ensure. This isn’t knowing how much he may be fuming at the Cardinal front office these days and how, like any employee, he might have had it with his upper management. I’ve had it with his upper management, on principle, anyway. I heard the GM of the Cardinals, John Mozeliak, issue some flat corporate statement the other day after Pujols’s deadline for signing an extension passed, as if Mozeliak had the right to embody the franchise and Pujols — “part of our organization in 2011” —  is some interchangeable commodity. I was truly offended by the notion that John Mozeliak gets to speak as if he, not Pujols, represents what it means to be a St. Louis Cardinal.

And I don’t even like the St. Louis Cardinals.

Yet now and then a fan recognizes there are more transcendent issues than a single contract or a behemoth bat coming onto the market. Albert Pujols is the Cardinals like Stan Musial was the Cardinals. Like Cal Ripken was the Orioles. Like an almost infinitesimal handful of ballplayers every generation are their team and better baseball because they wear one team’s uniform and excel in that team’s cap and never star at a press conference at which they try on some alien color scheme.

No. Don’t wanna see it. Don’t wanna see Albert Pujols in a non-Cardinal uniform almost as much as I don’t want to see Albert Pujols come up in extra innings against the Mets (a situation in which he’s filleted one of our relievers every year for the last three years). I don’t even wanna see Albert Pujols as a Met.

It’s not that I don’t want an Albert Pujols on the Mets. I just want the Albert Pujols to stay on the Cardinals.

I’m happy with Pujols weaving his immortality in another division, and will roll the dice that our pitchers will limit his damage unto us when there is a crossing of paths. Competition’s OK. Bring on their guy, and let’s cheer for our guy to get him out.

Or maybe walk him on four pitches if there’s a runner on second and first base is open.

Aside from believing that baseball’s integrity is preserved when its absolute crop cream stays forever ensconced from whence it rose, I just assume that some hypothetical fantasyland signing of Albert Pujols by the Mets would go horribly awry. That’s not kneejerk fatalism. That’s my wary conclusion after watching the Mets give out lengthy mammoth contracts to superstars who made reasonable sense in the short- and mid-term and became disastrous or at least truly burdensome albatrosses before their deals expired.

George Foster. Gary Carter. Bobby Bonilla I. Mike Piazza. Pedro Martinez. Carlos Beltran. Billy Wagner. Now Johan Santana, a truly excellent pitcher when not aging or injured — and suddenly not such a bargain. Wouldn’t have skipped the chance to get him. Understood there were risks involved that had nothing to do with the minimal fortunes that awaited Phil Humber, Deolis Guerra, Kevin Mulvey and Carlos Gomez. Did the math that told us A Ton of Money + A Mighty Long Time = Who Knew What? and accepted the equation. It was as worth it as the kind of thing can be.

It was. I love that Johan Santana became a Met instead of staying a Twin (which he wasn’t going to stay anyway). I remain enchanted that he didn’t wind up a Red Sock (or worse) when it was generally thought the Mets were a long shot to procure his services. I’ll always remain thankful he was on our side during the last week Shea Stadium operated considering little else was.

But geez that was a lot of bucks invested against an asset that hasn’t exactly appreciated since its first year on the books. Johan Santana didn’t finish the 2009 campaign. Johan Santana didn’t finish the 2010 campaign. Johan Santana won’t begin the 2011 campaign. The Mets have Johan Santana under contract through 2013 (with an option for 2014), yet starting pitching cannot be considered a Mets strength presently.

It’s not kneejerk fatalism to suggest that this always seems to happen to us. There’s often a terrific upfront payoff. Carter, Piazza, Pedro, Beltran, Wagner…they all delivered big-time within their first two seasons. Santana surely did in 2008 and during the first months of 2009. It is conceivable (as opposed to not inconceivable) that starting sometime in the second half of 2011 he’ll be his magnificent Johan self again. But boy is there unenviable precedent — Carter, Piazza, Pedro, Beltran, Wagner — hinting he won’t.

Our payroll blues are supposed to lift (Madoff mishegas pending) after 2011. No more Castillo. No more Perez. No more Beltran. If the vest can somehow avoid buttoning, no more Rodriguez. Reyes? Maybe no more, maybe far more of a payday for him. Wright will be in line for a boost or a boot of his own after 2012. Bay…let’s hope we get that big second year out of him the way we got it out of Beltran in 2006, but there’s still $48 million coming his way after this year. And plop atop all that $49.5 million owed Johan Santana for 2012 and 2013.

Thus, I can’t imagine, if he truly splits from St. Louis, that whatever it is Albert Pujols will want/would merit could be coming to him in Queens. And if it somehow did? If Albert Pujols suddenly decided blue and orange were his colors of choice?

I can only cringe at the vision of his first serious injury…as a Met; his first significant falloff…as a Met; his first positive test…as a Met; his first negative back page…the first of many as a Met. Maybe the kneejerk fatalism is overcoming me here, but it wouldn’t work. It just wouldn’t. Albert Pujols would rapidly descend into Alfredo Pedrique in no time as a Met.

I’m almost certain that Albert Pujols, had he been drafted by the Mets instead of the Cardinals, would not have grown into Albert Pujols. He would not have posted the best first ten seasons of any player ever. He would have… what? Become Prentice Redman (picked two rounds ahead of Pujols by the Mets in 1999)? Maybe a modestly productive John Milner or frustrating Gregg Jefferies type? Would have Albert Pujols in an alternate universe been, at best, Darryl Strawberry or David Wright, the top position players we ever produced? Maybe Cleon Jones, who was very good but rarely great? Maybe Robert Stratton, a big-time power prospect who never made it to the majors?

How is it possible, as long as fantasyland is spiraling into urban blight, that we’ve barely produced a remote facsimile of Albert Pujols? Strawberry and Wright, terrific as they were and are only approached Prince Albert’s level. They never resided there. Even if you acknowledge Albert’s level is the unreachable star, you’d figure once in a half-century it would be a possible dream to have a homegrown Met turn into something like that. It didn’t happen for Strawberry and it’s not happening for Wright. Reyes and Edgardo Alfonzo…not in the same league. Jones and Jefferies…uh-uh. Ed Kranepool…we love him, but Prince Edward he wasn’t.

Pitching we’ve developed, but the lab goes haywire when it comes to hitters. Has our scouting and instructing and coaching and leadership been that totally lacking for fifty years that all but a handful of our most substantial offensive contributors have had to come from somewhere else?

Maybe we’re turning a corner. Maybe Ike Davis will live up to my aspirations for him to at least back up Pujols in a few All-Star games. Maybe he and Thole and Tejada are the foundation for a franchise that under new and sound guidance won’t need to throw too many dollars and too many years at the biggest name that floats by every couple of winters. Maybe the next Pujols who whets our appetite will loom as icing rather than cake.

17 comments to Stay Albert Stay

  • Richie

    This post is an instant classic! Style and substance written by someone who gets it.

  • […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by You Gotta Believe! and metszilla, Greg Prince. Greg Prince said: Hoping Albert Pujols doesn't wind up on the #Mets is like worrying what to do with my massive lottery winnings. http://wp.me/pKvXu-23k […]

  • pfh64

    Greg, simply put (and clearly not as elegeant) but Pujols is a Cardinal, and that is the only uniform he ever wears. Even if he came over and played ten years in Flushing, he will never truly be a Met. Even if he won game seven of the 2012 World Series in the bottom of the ninth with a HR off of Mariano Rivera. It would be remembered forever and the second greatest Met moment of all time (I know I was only five but ’69 Mets still are one of the two miracle gold standards). I know Piazza is still considered a Met, and wants to be, due to the way his career in LA ended, but in the back of everyone’s mind, we all know that is provencial. I am sure that Dodger fans’ will always think of him as a Dodger. In this day of the sporting public spending two years wondering where a player will play before his contract is even up, we need the superstars to stay where they are even more than ever.

    I, by the way would feel that way even if I was not an ASU alum, and or Ike Davis (who I would trade for Pujols in a heartbeat, not exactly news) was from a different school. Baseball needs the icons. We need the George Bretts, Tony Gywnns, Cal Ripkens, and even that annoyingly “perfect” guy that plays on the other side of town. If Felix Hernandez has a borderline HOF career or better, it would just feel better if it was all with Seattle. I know this is not the dark ages, and there will always be tons of player movement, but some guys “should be stuck” in one place their whole career, and Pujols is one of them.

  • Well-Meaning Phils Troll

    After your first couple graphs I began searching for a sympathetic way to suggest that that a Pujols mega-contract from the Mets would – history would predict – end in a monumental disaster with a 2 season injury and an unproductive, financially-debilitating final 5 years, but somehow suggesting such without the (not-at-all-intended) connotation of mockery of shadenfrued.

    I should have known not to bother and that you would do as much yourself, and in a much more credible and pithy fashion.

    In interwebz blog speak:

    Well-written, Intellectually honest post is intellectually-honest & well-written.

  • I continue to be impressed with the quality of writing and the intelligence of the readers on this site. I totally agree – Pujois should remain in St Louis and finish his career there. I agree that, yes, it’s good for the game, yes, the faithful Cardinals fans deserve it and yes, some damn dark curse over Flushing would short-circuit his productivity in a George Foster-Tom Glavine-Johan Santana sort of way (okay, Santana’s been great, but still can’t buy a dominating or injury-free season). And, even if that didn’t happen, he still would never be a true Met.

  • Since Pujols would only leave St. Louis if we lived in a bizarro world, picture this:

    At season’s end, the Cardinals announce a contract extension for Yadier F’n Molina that extends him for a good while in St. Louis. Pujols reacts to it publicly by saying, “I’m sorry. I can’t play with Molina another minute. He’s a clubhouse cancer that gets buy on the reputation of his brothers. And did you know he was stealing signs during the 2006 NLCS? I can’t play with that cretin one second longer. I’m declaring free agency. I’m out.”

    And he does. Can we sign him then?

    I’ll admit: It’s a lot easier to be a Mets fan in the bizarro world these days.

    • Matt, if Albert said all that, then that would prove he’s a born Met — or Mets fan. In which case, he would be advised, “Do not pass go — but do collect $200 million from the Mets and get your ass where it was always meant to be.”

      Otherwise, not so much.

  • Joe D.

    Greg,

    Another reason I feel Pujols should remain a Cardinal is because of what I read about the Player’s Union wanting him to refuse any equitable offer and enter free agency so to raise the bar on future contracts beyond the ridiculous points they already reached. It’s just another sign that illusion we had about that special bond between the player, team and fans went beyond the Cal Ripkins and Derek Jeters.

    Anyway, if Albert did sign with the Mets, I don’t believe his power would diminish at all – only that what once would be a home run in St. Louis would be deep fly at Citi Field, thanks to the genius of Jeff Wilpon and his gimmicks to create more excitement.

  • pfh64

    Joe D, where would he go? Red Sox just signed Gonzalez, Yankees have Texiera, Dodgers are having their own ownership issues, and that basically leaves the Angels or the Cardinals. So, even if the union did threaten Pujols, who will be bidding for him? I know the Sox & Yanks print their own money, but even they would really take a lot of heat for 200 million dollar plus payrolls. It would be very bad PR for the game.

  • Florida Met Fan Rich

    When does this insanity for over paying stop? Is this the one?

    I would hope that he gives the Cards a “hometown discount” and the Cards keep him.

    There is something about a guy (Joe Mauer) who just doesn’t leave his home team high and dry and go to the highest bidder!

    Plus it would be good for baseball and the fans!

  • oldtimebaseball

    Greg, I can only add my fervent agreement with your excellent post and with all the expressions of praise in the various comments. Stay a Cardinal, Albert, stay!

  • dak442

    You would think Albert’s ego wouldn’t be such that he’d feel the need to outscore A-Fraud with a bigger contract, particularly if it means leaving his home where he is pretty much deified. It’s time for players to recognize the economy is different that it was a few years ago, and even if it weren’t, A-Roid’s deal is an outlier signed by rube owners that can’t seriously be considered the new market-setter. The Jets blew a similar chance – they should have told Revis that Asumogh is not worth $15M per year and they’re not letting senile Al Davis set their payroll.

    I have no doubt he would transform to a .290/28/105 hitter on the Mets. It’s not fatalistic, it’s just how things work out for us.

    He really needs to remain in St. Louis for the good of the game. The way David needs to be a Met for life, the way Rivera could never have closed in Boston. Pujols in Chicago would be insane. Lord knows it would amp up the rivalry though.

  • Eric B.

    I agree. While the thought of Pujols in a Met uniform has happily crossed my mind, I almost always think star players should stay where they are, unless there’s some kind of acrimonious breakup with the town or management. Pujols is a God in St. Louis—and he’s going to be as rich as that aforementioned deity regardless of where he plays. I thought Lebron James should have stayed in Cleveland too…so, I guess I don’t get to make these decisions.

    • dak442

      I guess if he wanted to go to Boston and DH (or make AGon do so) I might be OK with that. But otherwise, yeah, how much money is enough? Would it kill him to maybe take a few million less to stay where he belongs? Or are all athletes (talkin’ to you, ‘Melo and LeBron) willing to drain all the affection fans have for their games in pursuit of the dollar?

  • […] to call his own, and with Beltran’s, Reyes’s and Wright’s contracts off the books, maybe Albert Pujols as a Met isn’t such a crazy idea after all. (Come to think of it, didn’t Albert used to play […]