February 16, 2011
Though it inspired an apocalyptic-sounding nickname and even earned its own doomsday clock, Albert Pujols'(notes) contract deadline came and went as quietly as a morning in a spring training clubhouse. That should come as no surprise, really, because that's how these overhyped season-starting stories usually play out. The media's stage-setting drumbeat almost always rings much louder than the story's actual fanfare.
And so Pujols will arrive at the St. Louis Cardinals camp on Thursday and there will be questions. The first baseman will likely issue a string of non-answers laced with a refusal to answer any inquiries past this session. Then he'll climb into a batting cage and then he'll start preparing for the next 162 games, which might be the last he ever plays in a Cardinals uniform. It could end up being the shortest long time ever.
That this part of the story comes to a close without any blaring headlines or dramatic scenes is appropriate. Barring an unexpected midseason resolution between face and franchise, the baseball world is set to live through eight months of steady buzz as Pujols plays out the last year of his existing contract in St. Louis and strides toward free agency. Two days won't go by without at least one blogger or columnist stirring the pot — Can the Mets get their finances together to make a run? Will the Cubs think about poaching the biggest superstar from their biggest rival? — and it'll be fun to watch so long as you're not wearing redbirds on your chest. Heck, it'll even be good for the game because it's going to keep people talking. People love their baseball stars and Pujols is the biggest. There isn't a fan out there that isn't going to scheme a way to get Pujols on his or her team.
But all those war-time fonts are still a long way off because Pujols and the Cardinals never came close to an agreement — could they really have been offering the best players in the game only the 10th-best contract? — and now we're for an entire season of hype before the show really starts.
The Year of All Albert, All The Time has officially begun.