Thursday, December 08, 2011

Pujols versus other departures..

To work through my grief of Albert Pujols leaving the Cardinals for the Angels, I'll put on my analytical hat and compare his departure to when other teams lost their superstars.\

In a way, what's happening with Pujols is unprecedented -- a superstar is leaving a team that he just led to a championship, despite that team's apparent good faith effort to keep him.
Some comparisons:

Michael Jordan's retirements from the Bulls.
Michael Jordan took his baseball sabbatical after three straight championships.  The Bulls kept the rest of the nucleus including Coach Phil Jackson, and the team remained competitive.
Jordan came back and led the Bulls to three more championships, then retired.  This time, the whole band broke up, which was already in motion, and the bottom fell out.

Wayne Gretzky Traded to LA
After Wayne Gretzky and the Edmonton Oilers won 4 Stanley Cups in 5 years, there was a sense that Wayne had gotten too big for Edmonton, and he was traded to the LA Kings, in a move that was at least somewhat mutually desired.  Since they had such a deep reserve of talent, the Oilers remained competitive, even winning another Cup, but were no longer a juggernaut,  and slowly declined in relevance.


Shaquille O'Neal Going to LA, then Miami
The Magic hadn't won a championship yet, and Shaq's departure closed their window.

The Lakers had won 3 championships with Shaq, but were coming off a Finals upset loss to the Pistons, and transitioning to the Kobe era.

Kareem going to LA
Noticing a trend here...


The Bucks had won a championship with Kareem, but that was four years before he left, and the team was in decline already.

Rogers Hornsby traded from Cardinals to Giants
Hornsby didn't get along with Branch Rickey; Frankie Frisch didn't get along with John McGraw; so they were traded for each other.

This may be the closest parallel, even discounting that it's the same team.  Good news for the Cardinals: Frisch led the Gashouse Gang to more championships.  Bad news for the Cardinals: they aren't getting anyone directly in exchange for Pujols.

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Well, this hasn't been a terribly instructive exercise, at least in helping to figure out how the Cardinals will be without Pujols.

The Cardinals have been able to punch a bit above their small market weight.  The popular explanation is that the Cardinals are an institution in St. Louis, home to the best fans in baseball, etc.  But I wonder how much of that is a function of having in large part lucked into employing the services of the best player in baseball for the past decade.  It wasn't that long ago that Philadelphia was spoken of as a small baseball market, and teams like Toronto and Baltimore were powerhouses.

Is St. Louis intrinsically a great baseball town, or is it only when it has stars like Mark McGwire and Albert Pujols?  We may be about to find out.
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