Musial: Pujols will stay a Cardinal
WASHINGTON -- After experiencing what he called the most thrilling day of his life, Hall of Famer Stan Musial sat at a Washington airport Tuesday feeling confident that the man who is his heir apparent as a Cardinals legend will finish his career where it all began, just as Musial himself once did almost half a century ago.
"Stan thinks that Albert Pujols is going to stay in St. Louis," Musial's grandson, Brian Schwarze told SI.com. ""He's been saying that he thinks it is just a matter of time.
"Albert's got his house in St. Louis and he has his charity foundation in St. Louis. He thinks that if Albert leaves, he's going to have to start all over with all the things in his life. And, if he leaves, he's not going to be compared to Stan Musial any more, and we think that means a lot to Albert. He thinks Albert wants to be part of the St. Louis Cardinals for his entire career.''
Tuesday was a history-making day for the Cardinals when Musial, 90, a Hall of Famer who spent his entire 22-year career with the Cardinals and was their version of Pujols in the 1940s and 1950s, was given the Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House.
If Tuesday was a day for the Cardinals' organization to celebrate their past, Wednesday is a day to worry about their future.
The Cardinals have until noon, ET, Wednesday to get a contract extension worked out for Pujols, 31, their All-Star first baseman who is considered the most dangerous hitter in baseball.
Pujols is scheduled to report to the Cardinals' spring training camp in Jupiter, Fla., on Wednesday morning. Both sides agreed to extend the deadline until Wednesday so that the result of the negotiations didn't over-shadow Musial's special recognition, when he was one of 15 individuals to receive the highest civilian honor.
But whether the Cardinals and Pujols can agree on a contract extension has been an on-going question all winter. Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak and Pujols' agent, Dan Lazano, will not comment on the negotiations. Pujols has already rejected one offer.
Cardinals manager Tony La Russa thinks that the Major League Players Association is putting pressure on Pujols, and his agent to "set the bar'' with a record contract, a claim union head Michael Weiner strongly denied.
"I think Albert is very smart, very strong and is going to make a really good decision,'' La Russa said. "I'm just saying I regret some of the pressures he's having to face to make that decision. It's tough enough as it is.''
It's not easy for Cardinals fans, either, to celebrate Musial and fret about whether Pujols is staying.
"It's just one of those odd confluences of events that has happened,'' says Bill DeWitt III, the Cardinals' president who watched the Musial ceremony on TV at Busch Stadium in St. Louis along with the team's other front-office employees.
"We're very fortunate to have one of our central figures to be such a key ambassador for the game, and one who represents the city and the country so well.''
Obama recognized that as well with Musial, a seven-time National League batting champion who helped the Cardinals to three World Series titles.
Obama pointed on that Musial was the first player in baseball history to make $100,000 a season. And, it resonated with Obama that Musial was a player who, after an unproductive season, would ask for a pay cut. The president was referring to 1959, the year Musial hit .255 and asked the Cardinals for a 20 percent salary reduction for 1960.
"Can you imagine that happening today?'' Obama said to an overflow crowd in the East Room.
"He always said it was the best thing to do,'' says Schwarze, now one of the managers of Stan The Man Inc. "He felt he hadn't played up to his contract and that he deserved a 20 percent pay cut.''
It's fair to say Pujols feels differently. According to reports, he is seeking a contract to rival the 10-year, $275 million contract Alex Rodriguez signed with the Yankees in 2007 that is currently the highest in baseball history. That would mark a huge raise for Pujols, who is entering the last season of his eight-year, $116 million deal.
Like Musial before him, Pujols is a three-time NL MVP and an icon in St. Louis. He was even linked to Musial by being given the nickname "El Hombre," Spanish for "The Man" which was Musial's famous moniker, though Pujols later asked to not be called that out of respect for Musial.
At the reception after Tuesday's ceremony, Musial got his picture taken with Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama. He talked baseball and entertained them with two songs on his harmonica, "Golden Slippers" and "It's a Small World."
Warren Buffett, a billionaire investor and a fellow honoree who happens to play the ukulele, joked with Musial, according to Schwarze, "We should start a band together."
"Stan said today was the biggest thrill of his life, and considering all the World Series, the MVPs and meeting 13 different presidents, that means a lot,'' Schwarze said.
But, after leaving the White House, Schwarze said that his grandfather, like Cardinals fans everywhere, is hoping that Pujols decides to stay with the Cardinals.
Musial and Pujols are good friends. They call each other on their birthdays. Whenever they meet, Pujols gives Musial a hug and a kiss.
Schwarze said that his grandfather isn't worried about the Pujols situation. Musial has talked to Pujols about the beauty of staying with one team, especially the Cardinals.
"He thinks it is just a matter of time,'' Schwarze says. "He doesn't see why he would want to leave.''