By Dave Wischnowsky-
(CBS) Unless Albert Pujols drives in 1,330 runs, belts 446 homers, compiles a .329 batting average and wins three World Series for the Los Angeles Angels – that's one RBI, dinger, point and ring better than what he accomplished in St. Louis – the guy is going to enter the Hall of Fame as a Cardinal.
That you know.
But what you might not be aware of is that due to a little known quirk in his new megabucks contract with L.A., Pujols' eventual Hall of Fame induction 15 years from now could end up becoming the most awkward Cooperstown event this side of Pete Rose sliding headfirst on the podium in mid-ceremony.
Earlier this month, when the Angels signed Pujols to his much-discussed 10-year, $254 million deal, what wasn't much discussed about the contract is that L.A. actually signed the slugger to a 20-year pact that also includes an instrument known as a "personal services" provision.
According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, this contract addendum, which begins when Pujols retires from baseball, will reportedly preclude him from reconnecting with his former franchise until it expires. That means, if Pujols fulfills all 10 years of his playing contract with Los Angeles – and with an annual salary paying him $25.4 million per year, you can bet that he will – the earliest Albert could show his face with a Cardinals cap sitting atop his head is the year 2032 when he's 52 years old.
The rationale behind the deal is that it allows the Angels to preserve their monster investment in Pujols by keeping him in the Los Angeles fold as the franchise works to craft its baseball brand. Specific language of Pujols' contract with L.A. hasn't been made public, but the Post-Dispatch reports that most other service contracts secure a player's presence at organization events and keeps their personal image within the team brand.
For Pujols, it's thought that the contract could benefit him by providing a cut of merchandise sales connected to his name. What it denies him, however, is any opportunity to have a relationship with the franchise and fans who helped him cement his star stature.
And that's where it could get weird when it comes to Cooperstown.
Let's imagine this scenario: Pujols fulfills his 10-year playing contract with the Angels and retires from baseball in 2022. Barring unforeseen, bombshell circumstances, he would have to be considered a sure-fire first-ballot Hall of Famer at that time.
So, Pujols would then become eligible for the Hall of Fame in 2027 – five years after his retirement, but only halfway through his 10-year personal services commitment to Los Angeles.
It's possible that by that time Pujols might consider himself an Angel more than he does a Cardinal, but as we most recently saw with Andre Dawson being inducted as a Montreal Expo and not a Chicago Cub, players have no say over what team's cap appears on their Hall of Fame bust. The Hall decides that. So, based on his St. Louis feats, it's a safe bet that Pujols will be enshrined as a Cardinal.
But, due to his contractual obligations, he won't be able to really be a Cardinal at Cooperstown during Hall of Fame Induction Weekend.
It's unlikely Pujols could don any Cardinals gear for photographs. He wouldn't be able to sign autographs as a Cardinal. And he wouldn't be able to appear in any capacity that represents the city of St. Louis or his former franchise.
In fact, I wonder how much he'd even be able to say about the Cardinals during his induction speech.
The awkwardness also wouldn't end in Cooperstown. For five full years after entering the Hall of Fame, Pujols apparently still wouldn't be able to even travel to
Busch Stadium to be honored until after his personal services contract expires in 2032 – not unless the Angels give him special permission, I suppose.
So, while we all knew this month that Pujols had committed himself to 10 years of playing in Los Angeles, little did we know that he had signed himself into 20 years of exile from St. Louis, as well.
For Cardinals fans, Albert has indeed left the building.
And he's not coming back.
If nothing else, Dave Wischnowsky is an Illinois boy. Raised in Bourbonnais, educated at the University of Illinois and bred on sports in the Land of Lincoln, he now resides on Chicago's North Side, just blocks from Wrigley Field. Formerly a reporter and blogger for the Chicago Tribune, Dave currently writes a syndicated column, The Wisch List, which you can check out via his blog at http://www.wischlist.com. Follow him on Twitter @wischlist and read more of his CBS Chicago blog entries here.
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