Monday, December 12, 2011

Albert's Baffling PR Gaffe

Apparently when you are a highly-paid athlete and hire an agent to go out and negotiate multi-million dollar deals on your behalf, that doesn't include a public-relations person to coach you on what to say in the aftermath. So, since Albert Pujols obviously didn't have the benefit of that expertise, let's give a little thought to what he should have said Saturday in Anaheim. You know, instead of the poorly-worded, childish and asinine spew to which everyone was treated. Did he/they not know that this event would be seen in St. Louis? It didn't seem so. Even a poor PR person would have prepared a few remarks for him to start off with, and then coached him on the responses to some of the questions he most certainly would have faced. The adviser wouldn't have been able to anticipate the actual questions, but a well-constructed set of remarks would have set the tone. we go with what Albert should have said, but didn't.

"Thank you to Mr. Moreno and the Angels management for putting together this amazing contract for me and my family. I am very excited at the opportunity and look forward to this new chapter in my life and career. But before I say anything else, I'd like to thank the St. Louis Cardinals and their fans for supporting me for the last 11 years. It was an amazing run. Cardinals fans are everything you've heard about. They are passionate about baseball, amazingly loyal to the team and its players, and they have shown me more love than anyone could expect. I am happy to have been part of two World Championship Cardinals teams and will always cherish those memories. Cardinals fans...I love you and will miss you more than I can say. I only hope that while I play here in Anaheim, I will be able to enjoy the same type of fan base and loyalty that I enjoyed in St. Louis. Cardinal fans will remember that I have said many times that I wanted to play my whole career in St. Louis and that money wasn't the issue. I wish now I hadn't said those words as often as I did. Please forgive me for giving the impression that this wouldn't come down to a business decision. It did. And it was. I'm sorry, but it's true. In fact, I feel that the major reason I am standing here today is because the Cardinals, even though they tried very hard, just couldn't compete with the package that the Angels offered. As you know, the end of my contract with the Cardinals represented the only real opportunity at free agency that I will have in my career. The Angels were in a position to blow me away with their offer. Unfortunately, the Cardinals deal with a different financial reality in St. Louis, and couldn't. There were other, less important factors in my decision, but in the end, I decided to move to Southern California to play the rest of my career for the Angels and take the best offer that we received. I immediately felt comfortable with Angels ownership and management and look forward to being the best player I can for them and for Angels  fans. At the end of this process though, I am both very happy for my family, and very sad that I was compelled to leave the only city I have ever played in behind." 

What would have been wrong with a little honesty like that? This certainly would have gone a long way to clear the air in St. Louis, and the Angels management and fans would have understood. They aren't stupid. The Angels would have seen that the press conference/pep rally represented both an end and a beginning for Albert. As it turned out, it also was a totally blown opportunity for him to be seen as a universally-loved athlete in the mold of Stan Musial, Tony Gwynn, Kurt Warner, Cal Ripken and a few others. Some carefully-chosen words (whether he meant them or not) would have eliminated most of the bitterness that Cardinal Nation feels today. All of the "God told me to"...and "I prayed on it"...and "I felt more wanted" stuff is unbelievable and inexcusable, and only sets him up as an unlikable figure in St. Louis. For a sometimes painfully-obvious man of God, Albert doesn't seem to get that his words are products of the same entity, one that he did not honor by stumbling through his unprepared and uncomfortable minutes before the camera. He certainly didn't do justice to God's Golden Rule. If he were a Cardinal fan I wonder what he would have expected from the person who stepped up to the microphone? I suppose that didn't enter his mind. Did he genuinely not feel any emotion toward the people in St. Louis? Or was he just a very rich, but unprepared speaker?

Albert, without realizing the golden opportunity presented to him Saturday, seized it to look stupid and ungrateful. Unfortunately, Cardinal fans now likely will never forgive him for that.

Friday, December 09, 2011

Bigger Picture

As I have read the accounts and analyses of the Albert Pujols divorce from the Cardinals and marriage to the Angels, I'm reminded of what I have always thought is the larger issue...Major League Baseball doesn't provide a level economic playing field for its teams.

Some scribes, especially a few who cover the Cardinals regularly, are grousing about the Cardinals' failure to get a deal done and a less-than-enthusiastic approach by management to the negotiations. A few seem to blame Pujols for spurning the opportunity to join the group of Cardinals Hall-of-Famers on Mount Redbird. Perhaps a little too close to the trees? Bernie Miklasz refuses to vilify anyone and points to the reasoned approach on both sides...essentially saying it's just too bad that something couldn't get done. I look at it this way...if the Cardinals really wanted to keep Albert, and why wouldn't they?, they should  not have had to be as concerned about a larger-market team with more resources being the major issue.

For many years now MLB has had their group of  "haves" and "have-nots". The Cardinals, only because of their fanatical fan base, fall somewhere in a gray area. They are a smaller market team that can walk a large-market walk only because they can rely on 3-million plus fans per year buying tickets. They don't have an enormous television deal, or any other of the myriad of revenue-producing options that would be available to them in the big 3 markets. (The Miami Marlins and their "funny money" offers were just an aberration in this market place.) Did anyone expect the Royals, Twins or anyone else not in New York, Chicago, Boston or Los Angeles to put a quarter-billion dollar offer on Albert's table? Nobody can prevent some teams, and their management groups from being stupid. (See-Mets; New York, Cubs; Chicago) But MLB's business model essentially says to the smaller market owners..."Welcome to our club. Oh, by the way, there's our mega-team cigar lounge over there that maybe someday you'll be able to use. Good luck."

The NFL, NBA and NHL have their salary caps. While cumbersome and annoying at times, they at least give the teams in their business a chance to compete fairly for players no matter the market size. MLB has a payroll tax. Who really thinks that stops the big boys from spending as much as they want on a roster? If the Yankees, Red Sox, and a few others want a player, and he fits their needs, they sign him. There's not much thought given to whether it fits the budget. What budget? But when Mr. Selig and his management boys figure out that some of their teams have absolutely no chance to compete, at least regularly, for the championship maybe something will get done to fix the imbalance. But I doubt it.

I admire Bill DeWitt and John Mozeliak for putting an offer on the table to Albert that was reasonable, given their market conditions. I can't hate the Pujols/Lozano team for taking a better offer. The Cardinals had to do what made sense for their situation going forward, and I tend to think they knew there was a good chance that Pujols would go elsewhere. Whether the actions of Angel owner Arte Moreno and GM Jerry DiPoto are smart will be determined a few years down the road. But both of these teams are operating in a crazy economic set-up that needs to be fixed for the long-term health of the sport and so the Cardinals, or any team in a similar situation, and its super-star player shouldn't have to go through a long, drawn-out, and ultimately heart-breaking, process like this one. Competitive balance--a phrase MLB should get to know.