Arguably the best player in his sport, elevated to God like status by the rabid and loyal Midwestern fans he plays for decides that it is in his best interests to move to a new, trendier zip code and take his talents to a new team.
That used to be LeBron’s story. Now it is also the story of Albert Pujols.
The question is, do you consider Albert Pujols a villain?
I have to make it clear, I have absolutely no problem with what either of those guys did. They were FREE AGENTS, free to sign with whoever they want. I am more interested in the reaction.
When LeBron James made his “Decision” on ESPN, he was met almost instantly with a vitriol previously unseen in sports. Even in the days leading up to the ill conceived television special the tide had started to turn against LeBron. He was going to make one fan base extremely happy and anger the rest of the teams in the running.
So when he announced that he was taking his talents to South Beach, the transformation was complete. LeBron James was now the biggest villain in sports.
The reaction of the Cavalier fans was understandable; their hometown hero turned his back to go play in a city that is the antithesis of blue collar Cleveland. The closest South Beach had to Ohio is that one of the hotels on Ocean Drive is called The Clevelander.
To a lesser extent I understood the reaction of Bulls and Knicks fans. They had the double whammy that they believed they were in the running and well as the fact that he was now going to a longtime rival.
What I didn’t get was the reaction by the fans of Golden State and Sacramento and other teams that had absolutely no shot of landing King James. Why are they booing this team so vehemently? That is like boycotting Brad Pitt movies because of how he treated Jennifer Aniston. They weren’t even at the party and they are criticizing the food and the DJ.
So how are fans going to react to Pujols. By most accounts, St. Louis Cardinals fans are among the best and most knowledgeable fans in the country. So will they use that knowledge and logic to understand that Albert Pujols made the best decision for Albert Pujols?
Of course not, there is a reason fan is short for Fanatic.
So now that Pujols has taken his talents to Long Beach it will be interesting to see how fans will perceive him.
St. Louis isn’t the title starved sports wasteland that Cleveland is and they are still basking in the afterglow of the most improbable World Series run in the history of the sport. So that may buy him a little goodwill.
The truth is, Albert Pujols is no different than LeBron James. In fact, I would go so far as to say he is worse.
When Pujols burst onto the scene I remember watching a story about how he met his wife and how she initially resisted his advances because she had a son with Down’s syndrome. She didn’t want to saddle a budding baseball superstar with that kind of baggage. To his credit he stayed with her and has become and advocate for special needs children.
I saw that and thought “Damn, this guy is pretty cool.”
When all the accusations regarding steroids were running rampant, Albert Pujols seemed to be above it. He was the epitome of the “do it the right way” superstar. He is also devout man of faith (think Tebow without all the talking).
In other words, he is 1980’s Hulk Hogan without the shirt tearing and cupping of the ear for accolades. Say your prayers and eat your vitamins and you will never go wrong.
We compare LeBron James to Hulk Hogan for his nWo like heel turn on this site all the time (heck, its even on the site’s banner) but the true Hollywood Hogan just moved to the real City of Angels.
What LeBron James did to Cleveland fans was something he has yet to do on the court when it matters. He was a cold blooded killer. He took his high school sweetheart, the woman who has adored him and done everything for him, and left her for the girl with the silicone everything.
What Pujols did was worse. Even as the Miami Marlins jumped to the forefront of the Pujols sweepstakes, it was always believed that he would land back in the loving arms of his long time girl. When the Marlins went by the wayside, it was almost a foregone conclusion he was going back home. After all, his flirtation with Miami was only to raise his price with the Cardinals, right?
That was until he signed with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim for more money and a full no trade clause.
A lot of people think LeBron did irreparable damage to his legacy. I don’t see how Pujols didn’t do the same. Fans may try to point at “The Decision”, the way he did his hometown dirty and the fact that he didn’t deliver a ring as reasons they are different situations, but there is no difference.
He truly was Hulk Hogan. But much like pro wrestling was revealed to be a well orchestrated charade, Pujols will be exposed for the same. Impeccable public images very rarely stay impeccable (I see you Tiger) and “The Machine” is starting to show its kinks.
A recent report on Pujols’ agent Dan Lozano shows the kind of guy he has doing his business for him. (Lozano makes Maverick Carter look like a saint) and a report surfaced that he refused to sign the traditional World Series baseball this year because they weren’t willing to pay up.
I don’t wish a fall from grace on anyone. But in Pujols’ case it looks like it has already started.
It is ironic that the signing with the Angels might just be perceived as signing with the Devil.
In the mean time, here is a shirt for Pujols should he choose to embrace his new role.