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By Craig Phelps
St. Louis- Today, one of the best, yet most underrated players in baseball history will receive America’s highest award for a citizen. MLB Hall of Famer Stan Musial will be honored with the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Obama. Musial played 22 seasons as a Major League Baseball player with a career .331 batting average and averaged over 100 RBI’s, and 25 homeruns. The real shocker, at least to today’s sports fans, is that Musial was a lifetime Cardinal.
Tomorrow, contract talks between the St. Louis Cardinals and Albert Pujols come to a close. Pujols has consistently told the media, fans, and Cardinals organization that he wants to be a Cardinal for life, yet the self-imposed Spring Training deadline looms over St. Louis and Jupiter, Florida like a dark cloud. St. Louis is on the edge of its seat, waiting to hear a pen drop in the midst of a thunderstorm. If Pujols does not sign before Tuesday, the storm of fans crying out for Pujols’ signature may get a lot louder.
Less than 24 hours will separate Musial being honored with the Nation’s highest civilian award and Pujols possibly closing the window on talks with Cardinals. It almost seems ironic. Pujols seems to admire no other player in baseball history than he does Stan Musial. In fact, Pujols changed the deadline of his contract talks with the Cardinals from Tuesday to Wednesday because he did not want to steal the spotlight from Stan the Man. It’s really almost scary how much the careers of these two great players parallel each other.
Musial entered the league in 1941, the same year as the Attack on Pearl Harbor. Pujols stepped up into the big leagues 60 years later in 2001, the same year of the tragic attacks on the World Trade Center. Musial finished twelfth in MVP voting in his first full season as a Cardinal. Pujols finished fourth in MVP voting in his first season and won the Rookie of the Year award. Out of their full seasons in the big leagues, Pujols and Musial have only missed one all-star selection each. Both won their three MVP title within the first nine years of playing in a Cardinals uniform.
Pujols and Musial’s career stats nearly mirror each other. They both have a .331 career batting average. Pujols averages 596 at-bats a year while Musial averaged 587. Go ahead and take a look at their hits, again, nearly identical. Pujols averages 198 hits and Musial averaged just four less during his career. Musial and Pujols both knocked in over 100 RBI’s a year as well as runs of their own. Musial was a versatile fielder who played over 1,000 games at first base while Pujols, as every Cardinal’s fan knows, is a dedicated first baseman.
What now though? With the deadline drawing closer and free agency just a year away for Albert Pujols, do the comparisons between Stan the Man and The Machine end there? Musial has gone most of his life being under-appreciated by the baseball community; Pujols is demanding respect and appreciation. That’s not to say that Pujols has not earned the respect though. It seems like the only reason that Pujols is not the MVP every year is because people around the league would be crying wolf if The Machine cranked out the prestigious award like it was nothing. Can it really be debated that he is the league’s Most Valuable Player though? Without Pujols in the line-up, where is the Cardinals offense? It’s nearly non-existent.
Will Pujols resign a deal with the Cardinals? Probably not before Tuesday, he did already turn down one offer from the Red Birds. Fans should not look too much into that though; the first offer is usually to feel out the situation and to get a better feel for the situation. Think of it as a “contract tease.” What fans should be worried about is that Pujols didn’t receive the first contract offer until about two weeks ago, according to USA Today. There is no word on whether another offer is on the table or not, just that the deadline is Wednesday at noon and that there is a press conference scheduled for the same day.
The press conference could be to tell the media that the talks are over and not to ask Pujols any questions, or it could be for something much more positive. Purely out of speculation, what if, just what if, the Cardinals and Pujols announce that they have a deal done? The collective mind of Cardinals fans everywhere may just explode with Musial receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom today and Pujols signing on as a life-time Cardinal tomorrow.
Let’s hope these two great careers continue to mirror each other.