Since the St. Louis Cardinals won their 11th World Series title in October, the team lost the city’s most beloved star and brought in a former Cardinals killer.
The Cardinals signed Carlos Beltran to a two-year, $26-million contract Dec. 22 to fill in some of the offensive production lost when Albert Pujols left to sign with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
If somebody had said in 2004 or 2006 that less than seven years later St. Louis baseball fans would have more positive things to say about Beltran than Pujols, that person may have been sent to the nut house.
Beltran put together two of the best postseason performances in history when he played for the Houston Astros in 2004 and the New York Mets in 2006. Each year he terrorized the Cardinals in the National League Championship Series. He had a combined .357 batting average with seven homeruns and nine RBIs in those 14 games.
Just the mention of Beltran’s name back in those days was enough to raise a Cardinals fan’s blood pressure. Now he will make their hearts race for a different reason.
All of a sudden Beltran could be the new hero in St. Louis while Pujols is the enemy.
This type of move certainly isn’t unprecedented. The Cardinals signed Lance Berkman last offseason, and he quickly became a fan favorite in St. Louis. However, these moves continue to prove that loyalty is a tough sell in the current baseball world.
While signing Beltran, who began his career in 1998 as a Royal, might go a long way toward keeping the Cardinals in the hunt for yet another World Series title, it’s unfortunate the current financial system in Major League Baseball forces teams to reload regardless of how successful the team plays the previous year.
Part of what made being a Cardinals fan so much fun during the last decade is the fact that there was always the star player that usually created memorable moments whether the team was in the playoff hunt or not. The attachment fans build toward their favorite players is part of what makes the game so fun.
But, that attachment is harder to build in today’s sports world because of the economics of the game. It is much harder now to put together favorite players and non-favorite players because they could eventually end up on nearly all of the 30 teams at some point in their career.
Unfortunately, the sport feels a little more watered down when situations similar to this offseason happen. That’s the direction Major League Baseball has headed for a while now, and soon there might not be much difference between the American and National leagues. It takes some of the culture out of the sport.
I’m not saying Cardinals fans shouldn’t root for Beltran now. He will be a fine player and likely help the team remain one of the best in the National League.
However, that part of baseball that turns us all into hopeless romantics is also the part that makes me wish Cardinals fans had the chance to root for Pujols for his entire career and Beltran could remain the guy who nearly thwarted two of the team’s World Series appearances.