Slugger Albert Pujols has taken a lot of grief from some St. Louis Cardinals fans for signing with the Los Angeles Angels. And he'll continue to take it. But that hasn't colored his memories of Stan Musial, whom Pujols always embraced as the living symbol of baseball in St. Louis. In an interview with Bob Nightengale of USA Today, Pujols expressed his feelings for Musial, who died Saturday at age 92:
"It was such a sad day,'' Pujols told USA TODAY Sports, "but I am so blessed to have spent time with him the last 12 years. He blessed my life, and many, many lives in baseball during his career, and after his career. He touched so many lives. He means as much as Roberto Clemente does to Latin people. Thank God I had the opportunity to know him.
"I wish my kids had the opportunity to be around him, because that's how I want my kids to live their lives. I want them to be like Stan Musial.
"Not the baseball player. The person."
[Related: White House makes statement on Stan Musial]
Pujols respected Musial so much, of course, he refused to endorse the nickname "El Hombre," which was a Spanished-up version of Musial's "The Man." No problema, because "The Machine" works just as well for Albert. But it's also a little misleading. Pujols tends to keep a tight grip on his emotions. If he shows any, he's often a sourpuss about it. But a heart beats in there somewhere. His respect for Musial — even his brotherly love for him — has been right there for everyone to see. It seems as genuine as the emotions expressed for Musial by any fan in the last row at Busch Stadium.
In the wake of Musial's death, a question arises: Who is the greatest living Cardinals player now that Stan is gone? Wins Above Replacement says it's Pujols, followed closely by Bob Gibson. Other fans might argue Ozzie Smith. The player Cardinals fans considered the most beloved? Well, that's not going to be Pujols, especially so soon after he left town. If ever.
But to rip Pujols by comparing him to Musial is illogical, unfair and just wrong. For one, Musial didn't play in an era that offered free agency. It's not like he was ever given the choice to leave. Two, give Pujols credit for never wanting the distinction of being "The Man." He knew his place in St. Louis. He knew Musial always would come first.
Outside the Game from Yahoo! Sports
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