NFL? What NFL? Not in that town. The Cardinals are the biggest thing in St. Louis, and always will be. Talk of a sacrosanct baseball tradition isn’t mere hyperbole there. Great Cardinals tend to stay great Cardinals for life — and beyond, immortalized as bronze effigies outside Busch Stadium.

And after all will be said and done, who would be greater than Pujols? Stan Musial? Bob Gibson, maybe. But that’s it.

What’s more, Pujols is a peculiar character. He wanted to max out on the money (as is his every right) but disdained the scrutiny that went with it. When last he was seen, Pujols was having another great World Series, earning his second ring. There was that spectacular night with three homers but, also, an evening after which he abandoned his clubhouse post and left a second-year player to explain a crucial error Pujols had made. Anyone who saw that, up close, knew Pujols wasn’t cut out for a true big market, places like New York, Boston or Chicago.

LONG HAUL
Which of these lengthy contracts paid off and which ones were busts?

In other words: Stay in St. Louis, son. The Cardinals were perfect for Pujols: a fabled franchise that would afford Prince Albert the protections, privacies and courtesies of a small-market team.

The only problem was the market itself. You can be disappointed, if you must. But don’t be surprised. Pujols’ apparently sudden signing with the Angels over the Cardinals represents the inevitable triumph of commerce over sentiment (unless, of course, you’re an Angels fan).

When you went to bed Wednesday night, the Cardinals and the Marlins (sorry, no pun intended, but something’s fishy about the Marlins), each reportedly made offers to the tune of about $200 million. By the time people were waking up in California, Tim Brown of Yahoo! Sports was reporting that Pujols had reached an agreement with the Angels: 10 years, no trade, $254 million.

JUST LIKE WE SAID
One year ago, FOX Sports West looked into its crystal ball and foresaw the Pujols deal.

The market turned out to be pretty much what I thought it would be almost a year ago. (Unfortunately, I wasn’t quite alone in that forecast). Turns out Albert Pujols was worth way more than any other position player in baseball except Alex Rodriguez, whose Yankees contract is not so much an anomaly but something that bears the mark — literally and metaphorically — of The Son of Steinbrenner.

The real surprise here — a legit shocker — is that the deal was done and the final number arrived at without power from the usual economic engines. The Yankees and Boston Red Sox not only have other needs but first basemen who are just great enough in their own right. The Dodgers are emerging from mismanagement and bankruptcy and did well just to re-sign Matt Kemp. The bust-out Mets were not players, either. This isn’t a surprise, but it is an outrage. (Mets fans should be furious that their MLB-subsidized owners couldn’t even think about making a run at the game’s biggest Dominican star, but that’s for another day.)

Finally, as I am reminded by an astute someone who calls himself @Stretch_TB, the baseball world was spared from uber-agent. I don’t know it was necessarily a good thing, as I enjoy uber-agent’s machinations and rhetorical flourishes, even those that are nonsensical. But the point is well-taken: You can’t blame Scott Boras.

In fact, you can’t blame anybody. Nor should you. Unless you’re St. Louis GM John Mozeliak, nothing but kudos are in order. Agent Dan Lozano got a great number for his client — a 10-year deal for a guy who’s supposed to turn 32 in January. He didn’t even have to produce a birth certificate.

Angels owner Arte Moreno showed a lot of stones here. Too many owners think like welfare cheats. The Angels have made some mistakes (dumping Mike Napoli, trading for Vernon Wells), but Moreno is now making good on those debts with his fans.

Suddenly, his team is a threat again, not just in the division, but in the American League. He also managed to one-up the Dodgers. That’s not an inconsiderable accomplishment, considering the good will directed at Chavez Ravine simply because Frank McCourt will not be the owner much longer. Finally, Moreno has positioned himself with a huge asset in the local cable market.

As for Pujols, it’s pretty clear what he gets, starting with $254 million. The Angels have a big-market budget, but they’re the second team in their market. That translates into less pressure and scrutiny, something you figure Pujols would like.

Finally, there’s the realization that Pujols will get to spend the twilight of his career as a designated hitter. Bronze statues aren’t everything.

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