The Pujols Awards: week one

Welcome to the inaugural edition of “The Pujols Awards.”

This award is designed to honor (or snark on) the various do-gooders and the ne’er-do-wells involved with the game of baseball. The various heroes of the week will be given an “Albert”—named after the always-superb Albert Pujols. As we know, he is well on his way to the Hall of Fame. Just seven years into his career, he enjoys the following (courtesy of Baseball Reference):

Black Ink: Batting: 21 (97) (Average HOFer ≈ 27)
Gray Ink: Batting: 141 (110) (Average HOFer ≈ 144)
HOF Standards: Batting: 41.1 (134) (Average HOFer ≈ 50)
HOF Monitor: Batting: 166.0 (65) (Likely HOFer > 100)
Overall Rank in parentheses.

He seemed a good choice after whom to name an award.

Meanwhile the zeros of a given week will be bestowed with a “Luis.” Luis Pujols was a nondescript backup catcher with the Astros, Rangers and Royals with a career line of .193/.240/.260 (that translates into an OPS+ of 44). In 850 career at-bats, he hit six home runs and grounded into 26 double plays. It is nothing personal against Luis Pujols you understand; it’s just that he has the misfortune of sharing a last name with somebody on track to become one of baseball’s all-time greats.

Ultimately, we may end up changing the name of the award should I stumble on a more clever name. Feel free to drop any ideas, and I’ll bring them before THT’s knights of the pre-formatted table for consideration.

Since not much has happened over the first nine days of 2008, we’ll being with recognizing some who distinguished themselves for better or worse in 2007.

“The Alberts”

Frank Thomas

Say what you will about the Mitchell Report, Thomas’s willingness to speak with no strings attached to the committee speaks well of his desire to banish anabolic steroids from the game. Instead of following the union line, he did what he felt was right for the sport and those who play in it. While it’s easy to view Thomas as a naïve idealist, it’s preferable to the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ culture that allowed performance-enhancing drugs to permeate the sport. The fact that he competed against juiced competition and still enjoyed such an amazing career speaks volumes as to his talent. Don’t forget, this is a man who might have three MVP awards except he finished second in 2000 to Jason Giambi.

Mike Lowell

The Boston Red Sox were told by the Florida Marlins that part of the price of Josh Beckett was assuming the contract of Mike Lowell. Well, Lowell has given the Red Sox a solid season in 2006, and a terrific one in 2007. He batted .324/.378./501 with 20 home runs, giving Boston a ferocious middle of the lineup that helped them win their second World Series in four years. Lowell also enjoyed a .353/.410/.596 postseason including a .400/.500/.800 effort in the Fall Classic, getting him World Series MVP honors. Best. Salary. Dump. Ever.

Alex Rodriguez

While A-Rod enjoyed a season for the ages in 2007, it’s what happened during the offseason that was notable. Rodriguez finally had the epiphany that he could be the master of his own destiny. While Scott Boras was setting off land mine after land mine—trying to upstage the World Series, making up ridiculous contract demands and generally painting his client in the worst possible light—Rodriguez decided he wanted to stay in pinstripes and went around his agent to build a bridge back to the Bronx.

While some think everything has been staged, here are a couple of thoughts: Why go through all that grief just to get your client a $2.3 million-a-year raise? Also, back in 2000, Boras aimed for at least 10 years/$200 million with a quarter billion being the target; Boras got $2 million in excess of that. In 2007, Boras said it would take $350 million just to get to the table, and he fell $75 million short of his baseline. Let’s face it, does anybody think that Rodriguez couldn’t have gotten the numbers he signed for had he waited the full 10-day period the Yankees had to offer an extension? It appears it was A-Rod, not Boras who wrote the final chapter in this saga.

Clint Hurdle

Hurdle gets the award as club representative of a team that stunned the National League. Going into September 16, the Rockies were in fourth place, 6.5 games out of first in the NL West; 22 games and 21 wins later they had copped the NL pennant. It took the juggernaut Boston Red Sox to put the brakes on that particular freight train.

“The Luis”

Scott Boras

It was a rough offseason for Mr. Boras. Oh, he did all right financially, but he finally paid for making himself the star attraction of baseball’s offseason. First, he announced A-Rod’s opt out during the final game of the World Series. He then made ridiculous demands for his client, evidently misleading him as to the Yankees’ interest in keeping him. Finally, Rodriguez said ‘enough is enough’ and exercised his free agency rights and did what he—and not his agent—wanted.

Later, Kenny Rogers had decided he wanted to remain in Detroit only to see Boras making overtures to Texas. Rogers fired Boras and returned to the Motor City—the place he wished to pitch. For those who cheered the efforts of Marvin Miller and the sacrifices made by men like Curt Flood (and other self-sacrificing players) in getting baseball players the same rights afforded any free person in the workplace, it was a satisfying time. They didn’t go through their ordeals just so players could switch masters.

Don Fehr

Fehr forgot that his job is to protect the players’ interests. He is supposed to do this in two manners; he is to keep the player marketplace as open and free as possible and to ensure his constituents have a safe, healthy, fair work environment. Free agency is about players’ freedom to choose whatever criteria they wish in deciding their next work location. For years now, both union and agent have encouraged players to be blindly devoted to the salary bar.

What makes this so repugnant is that it takes a long time to reach free agency. First, there is minor league apprenticeship. Then a team will do many things to slow a player’s service clock for arbitration and free agency. Sometimes a player has to wait as long as a dozen years before he can finally shop his services and make an arrangement in his own best interests. For agent and union to try to influence players to shackle themselves to the salary bar after going through all that is, as mentioned, repugnant.

Second, Fehr seemed not to realize that ownership had no problems with players using performance-enhancing drugs. Fans loved the performances spawned by baseball’s steroid era. Fehr and Gene Orza created a multi-tiered playing field between users and non-users, but also between players who could afford substances that were more sophisticated and manufactured in sanitary conditions and those who had to look to the black market to get what they needed to keep up with their peers.

What it came down to was that a major league hopeful had to choose to use cheap anabolic substances created under potentially unsanitary conditions. Many players, in effect, gained MLBPA membership because they were willing to use these drugs. Even worse, two players on the same minor league roster competing for a spot on the 25-man varsity was in a rigged contest if one was on the 40-man roster (and not subjected to testing) and the other was not. Fehr’s libertarian ideology created an unsafe, unfair, unhealthy work environment for his constituents. As a union leader he should be embarrassed.

Bud Selig

He made his bed but refused to lay in it. Selig’s ignoring steroid usage in the game possibly allowed Barry Bonds to break Hank Aaron’s record. The steroid era was his and Fehr’s baby, but when Bonds tied Aaron he put on an expression that looked like he was trying to keep from puking curdled milk while enjoying a round of (over-65 division) pocket pool. Selig was nowhere in sight for No. 756—he has nobody to blame but himself. The thing is, even if the MLBPA would have fought sanctions, he still could have made a clear stand on Bonds’ (and other steroid users) achievements years ago, but he chose to do nothing.

These aren’t the only winners and losers in 2007—we’ll deal with others as the month goes on and work them in as we go.

Where do we place…

Roger Clemens (submitted by eTrueSports.com)

Is he an Albert or a Luis in 2007? Is he innocent of performance-enhancing drug usage? Is he lying? Why did he say that he was never injected by Brian MacNamee only to say that he was—but not with steroids or HGH? Isn’t lidocaine a ‘local’ painkiller (used where you are sore), and isn’t “B12” player-speak for steroids? What do we make of this? Right now there are too many unanswered questions to place Clemens in either category. However, eTrueSports.com) is my first submission for this feature and I wanted to use it.

If you have a nomination for the “The Pujols Award” let us know!) If you wish to have your blog credited with the submission we’ll post the link along with your candidate. Let us know why you feel he deserves an Albert or a Luis.

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