KING OUT OF THE CASTLE?: The atmosphere around the St. Louis Cardinals is playing out like an episode of “24” right now. The St. Louis Cardinals Winter Warm Up spectacular this weekend, their franchise cornerstone and unquestioned greatest player in the game was the guest of honor on Sunday. What was supposed to be a friendly weekend of autographs and pictures quickly and eerily began to resemble one of the infamous MLB Senate sub-committee meetings from a few years back. Albert Pujols was pleading his jersey number on repeat, flanked by four media relations guys, about how he can’t and won’t drag out his unresolved contract. This is because the focus wasn’t on what he does at Busch Stadium all summer, but rather will he do it there beyond this summer. The fact that this is even a question is beyond me, although I understand the Cardinals’ position. Last year they had to tie up Matt Holliday, and in the process made him the highest paid player in franchise history (he’ll make a million more than Pujols again this year). So they aren’t just sitting around biding their time completely.
However, after that crucial bit of undercard business was handled, the main event came up to the plate in getting Pujols made into a permanent resident at first base in St. Louis….a full year ago. So why is it coming to a point where Albert has to set a deadline for him to stay here? I understand that this could very well be the defining contract in Major League Baseball, and it takes time to hash out, but after the talks were stalled last year, this should have been handled with the same emphasis and timeliness of the deals made with Cliff Lee, Carl Crawford and all the rest of the big names that are already secure in their new homes this winter. So why is the literal definition of a living legend spending his time at an event geared towards honoring Cardinals, past and present, deflecting questions about whether he will be at this same event ever again? Hell, he’s already more deserving of one of the statues outside Busch Stadium than anybody not named Musial, Smith or Gibson. Why in the hell does a player of this level have to force the hand of his team to keep him? The Cardinals have made some solid additions to their club this offseason, but this has been looming over the entire organization for two years now, and taking a full offseason to even turn their attention to Pujols is show of negligence to sun in the in entire Redbird solar system. Without the sun, everything dies. And without this one, there would be a quick and prolonged death march in Cardinal Nation.
All I can say is, take care of family business inside the house, before it spills into the streets and everybody else gets a chance to lays their eyes, and blank checks, on it. 32 days and counting to keep that from becoming a grim reality.
HE CAN’T STAND THE REIGN: You have to be living under a rock to not see what Blake Griffin has been doing to rims around the NBA this year. He’s had 33 double-double performances in his first half of the season. His 47 points are the season high in the NBA this year. He’s on borderline walk on water status, when these numbers are taking the Clippers over the Lakers. That’s unheard of in Hollywood, where the Clippers are the biggest stepchildren in all of sports. He’s lived above the rim all year, and has actually made the NBA look like he made the Big 12 look two years ago, even after he missed a year with multiple knee surgeries (where I’m sure he augmented with some RoboCop type machinery). It’s the type of stuff that I haven’t seen since Shaq first threw on the Orlando Magic’s jersey for the first time and made them relevant back in the early 90’s. However, it’s not 22-year-old Shaq he reminds me of. Nor is it Shawn Kemp, who he is most widely compared to. It’s another high flying post player from 25 years ago he looks most like: Moses Malone.
It’s not because he doesn’t play similar to Kemp, it’s that he’s flat out better than Kemp ever was. Kemp never averaged more than 20.5 points per game, and he did that in a season where he only played 42 games. His high mark in rebounds was 11.4 in 1996. His career averages were 14.6 points per and 8.4 rebounds per game. Kemp gets a lot of credit because he’s recent in memory and was an exciting player in his prime, but the truth is Griffin is out doing these numbers on the regular already. Malone was however, a freak of epic proportions. He jumped higher and finished stronger than any big man in the league in his time, he led the league in rebounds five consecutive years while averaging 14.2 boards a year over that stretch. He averaged 17.6 rebounds in another season, and had eleven consecutive seasons of averaging over 10 boards per game. All of that while averaging 20.3 points a game his career, with a high season of 31 per. Not to say that Griffin is headed to join Moses in the Hall of Fame yet, but to limit him to just Shawn Kemp level already would be a great disservice to his both what he’s done already and what he could be shortly.
SOLDIER OF FORTUNE: All year, the focus has been on a few quarterbacks doing it all to lead their clubs. In the face of non-stop injuries, trades or flat-out sub par on-field company. The names that ran out over these situations reads like the who’s who of the NFL elite. Manning, Rivers, Brady, Vick; all were named to be the boss hogs for MVP honors at some point in the season. However, there was another guy that played with the Red Cross All-Stars all season as well, the only difference is that he is still on the job now. Aaron Rodgers has become something even more special in the Playoffs, in two road dips at that. He took it to another level this weekend in Atlanta, were he missed on only five of his 36 passes, and the 31 completions went for 366 yards, three touchdowns and even ran another one in. All of this while blowing out the top team in the NFC by four scores, at home.
The bottom line behind all of these numbers is that they don’t do anything but tell part of the story. Basically, Rodgers has become the most dangerous man left alive in the NFL this year. While all of the attention is thrown at the AFC matchups and the general idea that the Jets/Steelers winner might as well have the Lombardi trophy delivered to them in Pittsburgh next weekend, I’m going to say that’s a bit premature. Rodgers’ presence alone right now is looking like the biggest difference in any game being played, and the Bears haven’t played this version of him yet this year. He’s playing like a man possessed by the spirit of Joe Montana right now. While one those other top guns may walk with the 16 game MVP, Rodgers may be in place to win the one that’s getting handed out in Dallas in February.