In my last post I lamented the ugly negotiations between Albert Pujols and his St. Louis Cardinals employers.
The unpleasantness was interrupted for one day only when Cardinals great Stan Musial received his well deserved Presidential Medal of Freedom.
I couldn’t help but wonder what Musial thinks of the salary goings-on given that they are light years away from conditions that existed during his playing days.
Once there was a time, back in 1946, when Musial was fresh out of the U.S. Navy, married and with a growing family but earning only $13,500 despite being along with Ted Williams one of baseball’s best hitters.
Nevertheless, “The Man” turned down a ten-fold increase in his salary to stay put with the Cardinals. In those days, the Reserve Clause kept players tied to their team. They had no union and no retirement benefits. Veteran players, especially those who had given up their peak playing days to serve in World War II, grew angry.
At that moment when the players were the most vulnerable Jorge Pasqual, a Mexican importer-exporter who owned the Mexican League decided to offer Musial a $125,000 five-year guaranteed salary sweetened by a $50,000 signing bonuses. Musial turned Pasqual down flat. In today’s dollars, Musial turned down about $7 million for the entire deal.
Of course, the era was different and the Mexican League was inferior to the Major League, and anyone who played there faced a lifetime ban (rescinded a few years later) from the majors upon leaving. But the circuit wasn’t without its stars. The Mexican League had Negro greats Satchel Paige, Cool Papa Bell, Martin Dihigo, Ray Dandridge and Willie Wells.
Still, Musial left a ton of money on the table to stay with the Cardinals, something Pujols is apparently unwilling to do despite his statements to the contrary.
What bothers me most is that Pujols overriding concern is that he wants to be baseball’s highest paid player, an understandable but not particularly admirable goal. I’ve lived long enough to know that there’s always someone out there who can one up you at whatever you think you’re best at whether it’s hitting, making money, or driving faster cars.
As it stands today, Pujols could lock up more than $20 million annually for about seven years, stay in St. Louis and remain a Musial-like hero for the ages. As Mike Shannon once said, “Everybody in St. Louis, every kid in St. Louis, wanted to be Stan Musial. He was the best.”
I feel sorry for Pujols if it’s not enough for him to be remembered the way Musial is– while making $20 million a year.