There’s a lot going on in the world of sports, including two all-time greats getting their due….of vastly different kinds, and the road to redemption takes a detour from the gridiron to the potential hot seat of daytime television. Here’s my word, my 3 TRUTHS on what’s happening right now on & off the field.
1. DUE DATE: Think about who is considered to be the best baseball player alive. Not currently suiting up, because that’s a short conversation that begins and ends with Albert Pujols. Deciding who is second to him is actually a much tougher call (I vote for Roy Halliday). Expand that question’s scope and look at every player alive that could be considered for that honor. Right away, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron and Barry Bonds jump out as candidates. But I’m not here to discuss any of them, so go deeper. Thinking pitchers maybe then? Nolan Ryan, Greg Maddux, Tom Seaver or even Roger Clemens perhaps? All great, but not who I’m focusing on here.
I’m referring to the most overlooked Hall of Famer amongst Hall of Famers ever: Stan Musial. He wasn’t a high-profile personality and played long before the endorsement era came into play. He won World Series’, but never had that one huge moment that gets played over and over again on classic highlight reels. However, he was simply great, and he was as good, if not better than all of his peers, which include Ted Williams, Mickey Mantle and Joe DiMaggio, you know those names don’t you? In that group, only Williams can be argued as being the player Musial was, and very few after him have approached what “Stan the Man” did. I’m not saying he’s the greatest player alive, that honor goes to Mr. Mays. However, he is the greatest athlete ever, of any sport, that flies along without notice of being a legend of a rare class.
Let’s play the numbers game: He won three World Series with the St. Louis Cardinals, more than Bonds, Williams, Mays and Aaron, combined in their careers. .331, his career batting average, better than Mays, Aaron, Mantle and DiMaggio. 475, Musial’s career home runs, a number DiMaggio couldn’t approach. His 3,630 hits have only been bettered by Pete Rose, Ty Cobb and Hank Aaron. His 24 All-Star games are a record he shares with Willie Mays. He is one of four players to win MVP at two different positions, an award he won three times in five years. All of these numbers are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to his statistical achievements, and that says a lot.
However, this isn’t about the numbers as much as it is about the man himself. There are many great hitters that haven’t received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, which Stan will receive today at the White House. No, this is about the fact he is as good of man as he was ballplayer. For as slept on as his statistics are, even lesser known is how adamant he was about the integration of baseball in the 1940’s. As one of the sport’s biggest stars, this would be akin to Peyton Manning, Albert Pujols or Kobe Bryant pushing for the cause in today’s sports world. He served his country in the Navy for three years during World War II. Since his retirement he has been one of the most approachable figures and common man in the city of St. Louis, a city in which three generations are on first name basis with him. All of this has been achieved while Musial himself never sought the spotlight for who he was, and is, once.
He is as great of a man in the world as he is “The Man” on the diamond, and very much deserves the overdue acknowledgement he will receive today from President Barack Obama. I can think of very few who qualify more for the nation’s highest civilian honor than the greatest Cardinal, and most underrated athlete, of all-time.
2. APOCALYPSE NOW? Speaking of great Cardinals, there’s a much different type of acknowledgement attempting to be bestowed on the closest thing to Musial since his retirement from the Cardinal uniform. The Albert Pujols contract negotiations have taken on a panic Orson Welles would be proud of and a conspiracy element Kennedy theorists would be jealous of. Me however? I’m not panicked in the least bit. It’s about understanding the elements at work here, the market and what is in play over and above the money. I’m not here to make one of those “hometown discount” cries, because he’s given St. Louis one of those for the last 10 years. I mean the guy has won three MVPs and qualified for at least three others, all while being the sixth highest paid player at his position last year to show for it. No, it’s time for his to get his due as well, but understanding why the negotiations are at this point is key. Here’s how I see it:
#1) The Contract: I don’t believe it is going to take $300 million to sign him. It wouldn’t be out of sorts for Dan Lozano, Pujols agent, to ask though, go high and shoot for the stars. He should ask for $300 million because it’s a raise over the peak contract now, which is 10 yrs/$275 to A-Rod. However, in the end, I believe the amount will be about the same. The value of the Pujols deal could be in that same range, but it will be a shorter deal, that won’t be as front loaded as Rodriguez’s, who decreases yearly. Albert’s looking for the long-term, consistent payout, as he is conscious about the end of his career being on-deck by the conclusion of this deal.
Eight years/$275 million ($33 million per) may not be impossible. He’s gonna push for a career long contract & he’s got 8 to 9 years left, and that’s where the Cardinals are most likely concerned, being financially tied to his decline years (which will probably still be better than most players primes in 2019). The low-end I could foresee would be seven years/$200 million, which would still place him as the richest guy in MLB (currently) over the life of it.
#2: When? I don’t see this getting done by Wednesday personally, but with them making offers now at all, it shows the work is in. But Albert has to realize that him saying he doesn’t want this to drag into the season is impossible unless he signs. It’ll be a black cloud that follows him through all 162 games and beyond, until his name is re-committed on paper somewhere. Even Tony La Russa has acknowledged this fact. It’s simple, if he signs, it’s solved. If no, sweat it out. Either way, Wednesday IS NOT the absolute End of Days kickoff. There have been precious few players who have walked from St. Louis, ever. General Manager John Mozeliak & owner Bill DeWitt are committed to handling it & have the money. Also, the market in place that could pursue Albert doesn’t include the usual mercenaries of contract payouts, the Yankees or Red Sox. They are set at both first base & DH for years. If worse comes to worse, and open bidding happens for his services, the Angels, Mariners & Cubs would be in the best shape to make a run, they’ve got the money and the flexibility for his services. However, none of those teams can offer much more financially than St. Louis & definitely don’t have the supporting cast in place that can win easier than as a continued resident of Busch Stadium.
The intangibles lean heavily in St. Louis’ favor, because there is no other team that can offer the same comfort, cast & finance package. So whether he signs today, tomorrow or in December, I’m not too worried about it. We’ve been down this road before (see Holliday, Matt ’09). In conclusion, it’s not D-Day either way. St. Louis has the money, the Cards didn’t operate at max payroll last year & aren’t now.So sit tight and take comfort in knowing that the Pujols jersey you bought last year will easily still be in style in another eight.
3. DOG DAY AFTERNOON: After proving his value is still as good, if not better, than it ever was on the field, Michael Vick is now attacking a defense that he can’t out run or throw over: the American public. Public opinion is still very divided on him and his success, two years after he has left jail, and he hasn’t taken many opportunities to speak to them. Well, that time is over, as Vick has committed to sit down with Oprah Winfrey to speak to way more than just the sports fans, some of which he has won back already.
I think this is a good call. He has to come out of his comfort zone of the ESPN community and speak at large eventually, and Oprah’s show is the perfect place, with the perfect type of interviewer. Oprah asks tough questions, and won’t shy away from facts of what he did, but she isn’t a “go in” & grill type of interviewer. She almost always leaves off on a good note. So actually this was smart for Vick. If he would have went on Piers Morgan, the Today Show to face Matt Lauer or 60 Minutes with Anderson Cooper, he’d have got hit with some serious aggression that could have worked backwards to what he is trying to achieve, which is a sounding board to speak, yet not be vilified any further. However Oprah gets her high-profile interview (and the $200 bucks from her bet with Piers), and Vick gets a mild, yet highest level platform to speak to the masses from. Both win.
These are my truths, and I’m sticking to them.