In the hours following the death of Stan Musial, many players, coaches, and commentators expressed their appreciation for the life and legacy of the Cardinal icon. One interview, however, stood out from the rest.

“Thank God I knew him,” said a humbled Albert Pujols to USA Today yesterday, “I’m so blessed to have spent time with him over the last 12 years.”

By mentioning the 12 year time frame, Pujols emphasized the on-going nature of his special relationship with Musial. That friendship, forged over Pujols’ eleven-year Cardinal career, survived intact following his contentious breakup with the organization after the 2011 season. There is no doubting the deep love and respect Pujols had for baseball’s Great Cardinal.

During those eleven seasons, Pujols witnessed first-hand the generosity, kindness, and humility effortlessly exuded by the aging Hall of Famer. Both were men of deep faith and conviction who felt compelled to give of themselves for others. Pujols carefully watched Musial tend to the needs of the Cardinal organization and its fans. He saw the throngs of people being photographed beneath Musial’s enormous statue. He admired the adoring crowds religiously standing with full-throated vigor when Musial circled the field on Opening Day. Through all of the fan worship, Pujols closely observed how Musial cherished that responsibility and nurtured their love with a humble heart.

But in one misguided flash of ego during a 30 minute phone call from the Angels, Pujols forgot the lessons Musial had been teaching him over the years. He stormed out of Baseball Heaven to become insanely wealthy as the newest toy in the media capital of the world.

I’m sure Pujols pushed the ramifications of that rash decision out of his mind after the fact. St. Louis will forgive me someday he probably uttered repeatedly to himself. It’ll all work out fine in the end.

But I’m guessing Musial’s final lesson for Pujols is starting to sink in now that his dear friend has passed away. Mixed with his own personal grief must be a growing appreciation for what Musial gained through his life choices. Musial has attained baseball immortality and everlasting goodwill, not by his gaudy statistics or the richness of his bank account, but by his selflessness and humility. In one ego-driven moment of stupidity, Pujols forgot Musial’s lesson and threw it all away.

Surely Pujols must be seeing the crowds of heartbroken fans leaving flowers and other mementos at the foot of Musial’s everlasting statue. Surely Pujols must be hearing the eulogies praising Musial’s rock-solid faithfulness, all of the stories of his tireless generosity to fans young and old. Surely Pujols must be now haunted by the preserved legacy of Musial, the story of a man who sought riches with people rather than the empty treasures of money and fame.

Like a modern-day Peter impulsively denying his Lord, Pujols succumbed to the momentary appeasement of his own ego. And just like that, he lost the promise contained in Musial’s lessons to him.

There will never be a statue of Pujols in front of a baseball stadium, neither here nor in Anaheim, and the Westport statue will be long forgotten if it even remains there. Pujols will join his hero in the Hall of Fame someday, but he will no longer have a true identity. Instead of becoming Musial, Pujols is now a mercenary, play-for-pay rental like Alex Rodriguez. The impressive statistics Pujols compiles at the end of his career will be remembered in equal measure with the egotistic, “I deserve special treatment” attitude that led to his hasty, acrimonious exit. Fans will remember the surliness, the coldness, the refusals to sign autographs to the children who might randomly approach him.

Pujols spent eleven wonderful years in the tutelage of The Man, but I suspect he is only now, at the end, learning his lesson.

About The Author

Lifelong Cardinal fan and general loudmouth.

  • John Petzing

    I think before Albert committed to the Angels, his legacy in St. Louis had to cross his mind. Apparently, he didn’t think much of it. I don’t know what happened behind the scenes during his last contract talks, but he threw away things that money can’t buy.

    • Ray DeRousse

      Too true.