Cardinal free agent first baseman Albert Pujols, generally regarded as the most talented baseball slugger alive, just jumped from his supposedly beloved St. Louis to the Los Angeles Angels because they offered him several more millions of dollars per year that he couldn’t possible spend if he tried than the Cardinals did. The attitude of most players, fans and sportswriters, not to mention the players’ union (naturally), is “Of course! Who wouldn’t?”
Who wouldn’t? A more ethical, less greedy, more thoughtful human being, that’s who.
The Angels won Pujols with an offer of $254 million dollars for ten years, making him the highest paid player on captivity. The Cardinals. on the other hand, whose fans had cheered him, embraced him and worshipped him, and which had established Pujols as one of the franchise’s icons fit to stand with Stan the Man Musial, Bob Gibson, Dizzy Dean and Lou Brock, had offered a measly $204 million for nine years, or about 23 million a year. The difference between the two offers is minimized, if not eliminated, by the cost of living disparity between the two locales: housing, for example, is about 250% more expensive in LA.
Pujols, therefore, is like the Wall Street executives who persuade their boards to vote them absurd bonuses and compensation while eliminating lower level employees. The usual rationalization for approving the conduct of athletes who desert fans and cities for top dollar is that they have an obligation to “take care of their kids,” but this excuse expired as soon as star salaries in sports passed the eight figure level. Albert is looking out for his kids by making sure he makes 25 million a year instead of 23 million? Who believes that? Is it a father’s obligation to make sure his children can all buy airports? Meanwhile, the money Pujols takes ensures that lesser players have a smaller pool of cash to carve up, and their children might well feel the difference. Of course, working fans and their kids will be less likely to be able to afford to enjoy a baseball game in person.
Like those business executives who don’t care that their pointlessly extravagant salaries and bonuses exacerbate social tensions and fuel irresponsible class warfare tactics by politicians, the athletes who seek money for money’s sake do needless harm for minimal additional advantages and benefits, even to themselves. That is the real definition of greed, after all: not the desire for financial resources to do something tangible that could not be accomplished otherwise, but the elevation of money for its own sake above all other values and priorities. I know that there are people who will argue that “nobody needs” to make amounts ranging from a million to $100,000, and these are obviously debatable opinions. There has to be some point, however, well before one hits “all the money in the world” where it is reasonable to say nobody “needs” or should want to make any more money, and while I don’t know what the exact point is, I am confident that the point is reached well before $20,000,000 a year, gambling, cocaine and gold-plated jockey shorts addictions aside.
No, I don’t argue that decisions like Pujols’ should be constrained by law. It should be constrained by decency, proportion, moderation, loyalty, generosity and fairness….ethics, in other words. If he wanted to get out of St. Louis for other reasons, then everything I have just written is moot. But Albert Pujols always claimed that he loved St. Louis and the Cardinals. Now we know he loves money more. Just money, even when he could have had plenty, and St. Louis too.
That’s naked greed, my friends. There is no other word for it.