The One City Athlete

An angry article from Cincinnati decried the situation the Cardinals find themselves in with Albert Pujols.  

Pujols has said he will not negotiate with the Cardinals after he reports to camp Feb. 16. He will veto any attempt to trade him. St. Louis has two options. Neither is good. The Cardinals can sign Pujols to a long-term deal that would likely cripple their ability to field a winning team, given payroll constrictions. Or they can let him walk after this year, and say goodbye to a player more purely a Cardinal than anyone since Musial.

Why should the Cardinals be faced with that situation?

The Yankees aren’t. Derek Jeter will retire a Yankee, because the Yankees can afford him. If Boston had believed Roger Clemens hadn’t slipped, it could have paid him enough to keep him in Boston forever.

Who will ever again be a lifetime Cincinnati Red?

Unless a broken system is repaired to give small-money teams a better financial chance, Barry Larkin is likely the last Hall of Fame quality player who will have spent his whole career in Cincinnati.

Paul Daugherty is heralding the demise of a system that never existed.  We in Indianapolis are facing the final contract of Peyton Manning, and we recently said good bye to Reggie Miller who never played in any uniform but the Pacers.  Such one team stars are not just a rarity now, they’ve always been rare

Precious few players in baseball have ever played for one team their whole career.  Of the great 8 Reds of the 70′s, only Bench and Concepcion played their whole careers in Cincinnati. Even Rose and Morgan moved on to other teams.  This is the rule, rather than exception in sports, and it has been for a long time.  Jordan, Ruth, Aaron, Abdul-Jabbar, Bonds, Mays, Montana, Unitas, Rose, Chamberlin, Emmitt Smith, Favre, Maddux…the list of giants in sports who played for multiple teams stretches far longer than the one city star.

Consider football.  Of the quarterbacks in the Hall of Fame, only 9 of the 23 modern era QBs played their whole careers in one city. Even greats like Johnny Unitas moved on late in their career.

In baseball, the vast majority of the men in the Hall of Fame played for multiple teams.  If you go back over the induction rolls for the past 25 years, you’ll see that most players didn’t finish in the same city in which they started.  In fact, Daughtery complains that Larkin is the last Hall of Fame guy to play his whole career in red, but he doesn’t realize that there was only one other: Bench.  Even if you argue that Concepcion was ‘Hall of Fame’ quality, that’s still just three guys in the history of the franchise who played anywhere near a Hall of Fame quality career for the just the Reds.

The NBA hasn’t been much more stable.  Only around a third of the players elected to the Hall in the past 30 years spent their whole careers with one team.

Colts fans mercifully never had to watch Marvin Harrison play in another uniform, and God willing, we’ll never see Peyton in anything but blue and white, but such things are massive exceptions in sports.  One city athletes are special and should be celebrated.

Baseball isn’t broken because Pujols might leave Saint Louis any more than it was broken when Red Sox sold Ruth or the Reds let Rose walk.  Professional sports are played for money, and money will always force economic choices. 

That’s not a broken system; it’s reality.

We’ve been blessed in Indy to claim Reggie Miller and Marvin Harrison as ours and only ours.  I hope we get to claim Peyton Manning that way too.  I hope the Cards find a way to sign Pujols, but if they don’t, Pujols will be like EVERY OTHER Cardinal in the Hall of Fame but Bob Gibson and Stan Musial. 

Same as it ever was.

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