The indisputable highlight of an otherwise forgettable weekend for the St. Louis Cardinals was the Friday night ceremony to retire Tony La Russa’s number 10.
There is a reason the National Baseball Hall of Fame and other comparable career-honoring entities have a five-year waiting period before individuals can be considered for inclusion. That allows ample time for reflection and avoids the risk of emotional decisions that are later regretted. Of course, number retirement decisions are solely under team ownership control.
In an editorial this weekend, writer and friend Rob Rains reminded readers of the Ken Boyer case. The former team captain with the undistinguished and short managerial record passed away at the too-young age of 51 in 1982. The club moved swiftly to retire the Missouri native’s number 14, a decision that does not feel like it is standing the test of time.
In my view, that was the worst of both worlds, a quick move that was not clearly warranted, done after the individual had already passed away.
In La Russa’s case, there seems no doubt that his Cardinals legacy will remain strong. Perhaps holding the ceremony just one month into the next season following his retirement was considered a way to gain closure from a long, but sometimes complicated relationship.
La Russa’s on-field successes with St. Louis were many. Even so, there seemed no willingness on either side to continue the partnership in the front-office role that La Russa appears to be seeking for his post-managerial employment.
Other than a recent scare with shingles, La Russa seems healthy and strong. Yet he is now 67 years of age and says his managing days are done. Perhaps holding this celebration when it could be fully enjoyed by all was the right thing to do.
I was set to leave it at that… until I read and fully considered the ramifications of the close of Rains’ article.
The writer calls for a companion move to La Russa’s number retirement, specifically to:
“… put “Pujols 5” next to him in the not-too-distant future.”
I see and understand how and why some rail at the negative backlash directed toward Albert Pujols in recent months over his departure from St. Louis and his early struggles with the Angels. I find heaping portions of the criticism distasteful and uncalled for.
Further, there is no doubt that the Cardinals legacies of the manager and the man he calls “the best player I’ve ever managed” are forever intertwined.
On the other hand, even thinking about retiring Pujols’ number at this point – midway through his time as an active player – seems an over-reactionary swing in the opposite direction from the current negativism. It could be just as out-of-place as the Boyer decision we both seriously question, albeit for different reasons.
In his defense, Rob does not define “not-too-distant,” which puts this in a gray area. Still, I don’t agree, no matter how liberally one interprets the term. My view of the right time for such a discussion is five years after Pujols retires, same as his Hall of Fame qualification.
Assuming the first baseman fulfills his current contract, the date would be no sooner than following the 2026 season. Many, many years should still remain to look back and celebrate Pujols’ many accomplishments while wearing the Cardinals uniform. He would still be in his mid 40’s and only part-way through his Angels personal services contract.
In my book, a minimum of 15 years into the future is clearly “distant”, not “not-too-distant,” a very important differentiation. To help emphasize 15 years in Albert Pujols context, consider this. 15 years ago, Pujols was just 17 years of age, playing high school ball in the Kansas City area.
Over the next decade and a half, Pujols and the Cardinals will be in direct conflict, each trying to win the World Series. It certainly isn’t inconceivable to envision them meeting on the field over the ultimate prize at some point in the upcoming years.
In conclusion, there seemed good reasons for a rapid closure of the La Russa era, but there should be no comparable sense of urgency to make such move to honor Pujols.