When one thinks about the National League in Major League Baseball, a lot of images of great players and great organizations immediately come to mind, such as the St. Louis Cardinals, Los Angeles Dodgers, and Cincinnati Reds -- just to name a few.
These storied franchises have produced Hall-of-Famers such as Stan "The Man" Musial, Johnny Bench, and Jackie Robinson -- all of whom make you remember the glory days of baseball, when it truly was America's favorite pastime.
As a child, one of the biggest draws to why I became a fan of the Cardinals was because of the great tradition of the team. Great players such as Ozzie Smith, Lou Brock, Bob Gibson, and Stan Musial were Cardinal-lifers. St. Louis is truly baseball heaven and these players are the Gods, who like the Gods of Ancient Greece, have statues that surround their temple -- Busch Stadium.
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Then, if deemed appropriate, his number would be ceremonially retired and most likely a statue of him would be created so that they would always be a part of the ballpark where they dominated for so many years.
That National League -- is no more.
The National League officially died this season when the Detroit Tigers, Los Angeles Angels, and Texas Rangers all decided to join the ranks of the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees as teams that use small market NL clubs as a bowl of cherries to be picked.
When Prince Fielder and Albert Pujols decided to take max contracts to leave the comfort of Milwaukee and St. Louis for more money, it made me realize that what people used to love about National League baseball was officially over.
The new motto for fans of teams in the National League should be enjoy watching your superstar while you have him, because before you know it, he'll be out the door. This is not just a player issue, but also a team one. Both star player and teams in the National League have created a new way of doing things. The team develops a player, signs him to a deal taking up his 20s and maybe early 30s, and then sends him packing -- unless the player will take a below market value deal.
As can been seen with Albert Pujols, this approach does not sit well with a star player that has an ego that must be fed. Staying in St. Louis to finish what he started was in the best interest of Pujols, but his desire for an ego boost was so great that he decided joining the Gods of St. Louis Cardinals lore with a statue outside the stadium one day was not worth taking a $200 million deal from the World Series Champions over a $250 million deal from the Angels, who he never even bothered visiting beforehand.
My point is, now that at minimum five teams in the American League are able to compete for the National League's best free agents, the odds of an Albert Pujols staying home for their whole careers is very unlikely. The DH is an alluring position for aging superstars along with receiving $50 million more dollars than their National League team is willing to pay them.
The front offices of National League teams don't particularly want to have the Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder's for their whole careers now anyway. They worry about them becoming defensive liabilities in the field, being riddled with constant injuries, and never even coming close to their old form offensively when they reach their mid-to-late 30s.
I can honestly say, I see their point, as paying a 39-year-old $25 million for 20-25 home runs a year is insane when there are much more affordable younger players out there that can give you even better numbers.
However, baseball wasn't always this calculating. There was a romance with the city and the ballplayer so strong that it didn't matter if they declined in performance, but just that they finish what they started. Today's National League GM's don't have that mindset anymore though.
It's gone forever.
Therefore, National League fans -- when your team gets an Albert Pujols, don't get too attached to him like I did and assume one day you will be attending the last game of their career in the same city where you saw their first. The American League, with their insane contracts and DH position, has officially sealed the door on National League storybook endings with its iconic players.
It would be nice to think that another position player statue will join the others surrounding Busch Stadium one of these days, but as long as this trend continues and superstar players continue to want top-dollar, sadly, I don't see it happening.
MLB better be careful that they don't become three leagues -- the minors, the barely above minors National League, and the star-filled American League on top. Ask yourself to name three star players in the NL Central.
My point exactly.
As Jerry Seinfeld said, "Today in baseball we root for the laundry, not the players who come and go." When Albert Pujols decided to leave the National League's most storied franchise who just won a World Series and where he is beloved for more money, this new age of baseball in the National League was hammered home.
It truly has brought a tear to my eye.