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McGwire, Pujols and “30 million-plus”

In comments given to Sporting News and reported by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in support of Albert Pujols having been named the magazine’s 2009 Player of the Year, retired slugger Mark McGwire offered the following assessment of Pujols’ value per year if he becomes a free agent:

“30 million-plus.”

My first thought was that Big Mac must not be planning to come to work for the Cardinals as a spring training instructor any time soon. After all, Bill DeWitt, Jr. and the other members of the Cardinals ownership group probably spit out their morning coffee when reading the quote.

Obviously, the amount seems high, especially for those hoping upon hope that Pujols will accept a “hometown discount”. Then again, remember that Alex Rodriguez will be paid $32 million by the New York Yankees in each of the next two seasons and Pujols is almost five years younger.

To those who wonder if Mac might be serving as an agent for agents, priming the pump for Pujols’ representatives, the Beverly Hills Sports Council, it probably isn’t so, at least by design.

After all, McGwire was an oddity in that he did not even deploy his agent, Bob Cohen, in negotiating his final Cardinals contract. When he was ready, Big Mac simply called up DeWitt and hammered it out the old-fashioned way. McGwire knew he could have gotten more, but felt his deal was fair.

Pujols is not taking that path, instead following the common approach of deflecting discussion about his contract talks to his agents – along with placing his future in the hands of God.

As I thought about A-Rod’s money and McGwire, it reminded me of the latter’s famous 2001 interview with CNN/SI. Ironically, it was given during the first Cardinals major league spring training of a then-unknown, wearing number 68 in camp that March, Albert Pujols.

In the interview, McGwire, then the Cardinals slugging first baseman, was critical of escalating salaries in the game, affirming an earlier remark that he had been paid enough money to last “umpteen lifetimes”. He wondered aloud why others could not be satisfied with their current multi-million dollar commitments.

At the time, McGwire had just signed what would be his final deal, a below-market value contract for two years, $30 million. It wasn’t a hometown discount; instead it was an acknowledgment by McGwire that he had enough, more than enough, in fact.

I wonder how Pujols will ultimately decide how much is enough for him.

Specifically, in the 2001 interview, Big Mac demonstrated a high level of concern over the Texas Rangers’ ten-year, $252 million contract for A-Rod’s services that represented a record payday at that time.

“It’s mind-boggling. I’ve talked to a lot of veteran players and all their mouths have dropped. It set the bar very, very high. What Alex has done in the first six years, he’s going to have to do so much more to justify getting paid $20-$25 million. And I wish him nothing but the best. But just going out there and playing is not good enough. That’s not going to justify making $20 million. People are going to want to see more. And I hope he understand and realizes that’s what he’s going to have to do,” McGwire told CNN/SI.

Apparently during the intervening years, Big Mac has gotten over those concerns as he pushes Pujols’ current value, which in his view could surpass A-Rod for a new record-high annual value salary in MLB history.

When asked why he negotiated his own contract, this was McGwire’s reply in 2001:

“I think agents are starting to take over the game,” McGwire observed. “They’re starting to have more power than they should. And I’ve always told my friends that play major league baseball that you have to understand that the agent works for you, you don’t work for the agent. You, the player, make the calls, they don’t make the calls for you. And I hope more players do that. That it’s not about playing for every cent that you can get.”

Fast forwarding again eight years, it is too bad McGwire apparently hasn’t gotten the message through to his good friend and workout partner Matt Holliday. Under the direction of agent Scott Boras, the Cardinals outfielder is poised to auction his skills on the open market to the highest bidder. Yes, Boras is Rodriguez’ agent, too.

For the entire 2001 CNN/SI article, including video (RealPlayer plugin required), click on the following: “Heavy hitter – Mark McGwire speaks his mind”.

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Brian Walton

Brian Walton runs The Cardinal Nation and The Cardinal Nation Blog, covering the St. Louis Cardinals and minor league system.
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