Could Albert Pujols pull a “Lebron”?

LeBron James did one thing exceedingly well these past 72 hours- raise his profile to pass the mom test, as Bill Simmons donned it. Ask your mom if she knows who LeBron James is this morning and I’m pretty sure that she’s aware of the guy and has at least a cursory understanding that he’s involved in some contract/city drama.

Perhaps a week ago your mom knew LeBron James. Today she definitely does.

And that means one thing for LeBron James… more money. And don’t kid yourself,¬† professional athletes care about winning- they care more about money. Mainstream brands that might have been leery of pushing a LeBron backed product to market are looking right¬† now at the overnight ratings from ESPN and calling his business manager to ‘run some ideas by him’. When people see they can make money off you and get eyeballs focused in one direction on TV, Radio and the Internet? You’re fucking golden.

LeBron chose to go to Miami and play with the Heat. They’ve already sold out their season tickets. Today they’ll probably sell out most of their road games. Conversely, Cleveland is devastated. Not only is one of the best players in basketball leaving their city without a championship and in the prime of his career. But he’s also handing the Cavs a roster of bums. Bums that they’re stuck with since most of the good free agents are committed to other teams.

He’s lauded in one place, castigated in another.

Come 2011, Albert Pujols may be in the same situation as LeBron. In the prime of his career, carrying the weight of his small Midwestern city on his back for years, fielding calls that involve more than X’s and O’s, but plans on how to create a global Pujols brand. More succinctly, if he wants what we saw last night… Pujols can have it.

But Hooks- Albert would NEVER do that to St. Louis. He loves it here. The Cardinals wouldn’t let him leave. Fill in whatever your hopeful argument is here.

Maybe you’re right. Hell, I hope you’re right. But we’re about a season and half from finding out. And we have some things to consider.

1) The Cardinals have done a pretty poor job of getting Pujols the mega-deals he deserves in marketing. Ryan Howard and Subway, Derek Jeter and Gillette, Joe Mauer and EA Sports… these guys are building their brands. And until Wheaties hastily got Pujols involved with a partial deal with their new ‘Fuel’ line of cereal, Pujols has pretty much been stuck in regional marketing hell. Reactor watches anyone? Why isn’t he the face of any national Latino brands? Shouldn’t he be worthy of video game headlining gigs? Dammit- doesn’t he like subs? He likes subs right? Some of this is on his business management. Some of this is on the Cardinals. But most of it has to do with the fact that he’s not in a major market… ahem… just like Cleveland isn’t.

2) Pujols likes money. Guys who buy Lamborghini’s and build 20K square foot houses like money a lot. If you think Pujols is going to sign another reasonable deal to stay in St. Louis again… you’re fucking insane. And I mean that kindly. Pujols will be looking for the best possible deal out there and I’m not sure, again, that a small market like St. Louis can support the payroll that would entail.

3) Cleveland has their dicks in their hands today. Johnny Mo sees this and wonders if he isn’t able to lock in Pujols this off season, if he shouldn’t start seeing if he can get something for his crown jewel. We’ve put this on the back burner for a couple of years now. But 12 months from now isn’t as long as you think. This high stakes game of poker is coming to a head. We’ve seen the flop and people are sizing up the moves… but the dealer is ready to draw soon.

I hate to even throw out the hypothetical of how St. Louis would react if this exact scenario played out with Pujols. Because as much as LeBron meant to Cleveland, I think Pujols means twice as much to this city. He’s won a championship here. He’s broken records held by Cardinals legends. He’s been the literal and figurative face for the franchise going on a decade. There are kids in college right now that don’t really remember a life without Albert Pujols batting 3rd and killing opposing pitchers.

Fuck. That makes me feel old. It’s the truth though. And those 18 year olds wouldn’t take kindly to a Pujols exit on national team. Neither would 28, 38, 48, 58, 68 or 78 year olds.

So let’s hope it never comes to this. But remember… I could if Albert wanted it to, I could.

Back in 2009, nobody in Cleveland would have believed you either if you told them how it all played out.

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