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Monday, December 19, 2011

There's no 'i' in 'loyalty'—and for that matter, no 'u.' (There is a 'y.')

Posted by on 12.19.11 at 12:00 PM

321px-Albert_Pujols.jpg
  • shgmom56/Wikimedia Commons
As a Saint Louis Cardinals fan, I'm trying to deal with the apostasy of Albert Pujols. I'm taking the long view and I hope it works. Preposterously, the Cardinals wound up winning the World Series this past season, despite having only one starting pitcher of any distinction and a lot of other problems besides. Given MLB parity plus cosmic justice, the Cardinals are a few years away from winning another title under any circumstances, so those years might as well be spent recalibrating the team without the massive salary and diminishing skill set Pujols would have imposed on them.

That's the long view, part one. Let's begin long view, part two, with a look at how less high-minded Cardinals fans have reacted.

“There’s only one Stan Musial,” the Führer concludes forlornly.

Pujols’s departure leaves Musial safely ensconced in the hearts of Saint Louisans as the greatest Cardinal of them all, with pitcher Bob Gibson a close second. Pujols no longer rivals them because he moved on, while Musial and Gibson played for no other team. Loyalty in their eras was harder to measure than it is now, as the reserve clause bound all players to their teams for as long as those teams wanted to keep them. But in 1946 the five Pasquel brothers decided to build up their Mexican League by raiding the big leagues for players. They signed several, and they offered Musial $125,000 (and thousands of dollars more in bonus money) to play five years in Mexico. At the time the Cardinals were paying him $13,500. Musial said no.

Musial retired at the end of the 1963 season. That winter the baseball writers of Saint Louis honored him at their annual dinner, serenading him with “Thanks for the Memories.” New lyrics had been written by Dorothy Broeg, the wife of the sports editor of the Post-Dispatch.

Thanks for the memories.
Your wiggle at the plate.
The umps you didn’t bait.
The year you turned a deaf ear
To the Mexican debate.
How lucky we were…

The room exploded in grateful applause.

There’s another reason Musial stayed in Saint Louis. In 1956 the Cardinals’ new general manager, Frank Lane, wanted to trade him to the Phillies for pitcher Robin Roberts. Musial got wind of what was going on, said something to the team’s owner, Gussie Busch, and Busch told Lane to forget about it. So Lane, who lived to make deals, immediately traded second baseman Red Schoendienst to the New York Giants. Schoendienst was Musial’s best friend and roomed with him on the road. They’d been teammates 11 years.

Another longtime teammate of Musial’s was outfielder Enos Slaughter, who played 16 years for Saint Louis until he was traded to the Yankees in 1954. “This is the biggest shock of my life,” he said. “Something I never expected to happen. I’ve given my life to this organization, and they let you go when they think you’re getting old.”

Third baseman Ken Boyer led the Cardinals to the World Series championship in 1964. But in ’65 he and the team tailed both off, and at the end of that season he was traded to the New York Mets.

Schoendienst and Boyer would both return to Saint Louis to manage the Cardinals, so the civic memory of their being shipped out is perhaps dimmer than it might be. And who’s around to recall that Dizzy Dean was traded to the Cubs in 1938? Or that Rogers Hornsby, the second baseman and playing manager who led the Cardinals to their first World Series title in 1926, wanted more money the following year than the team was willing to pay him and was moved to the New York Giants?

And what reason does anybody in Saint Louis have to recall that left fielder Lou Brock came to the Cardinals in a trade with the Cubs in 1964, relief pitcher Bruce Sutter in a trade with the Cubs in 1980, shortstop Ozzie Smith in a trade with San Diego in 1982? They entered the Hall of Fame in Saint Louis uniforms. They became Cardinals through and through.

These players are the Cardinal immortals honored in an outfield display of uniform numbers at Saint Louis’s Busch Stadium. All but Boyer are in the Hall of Fame. They are symbols of the heritage on which Pujols turned his back. They are symbols of the high place allegiance once occupied in big league baseball.

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