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Lack of real news makes Pujols 'deadline' bigger 'distraction'

by | CBSSports.com Columnist
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Albert Pujols screwed up this time, and there's really nothing he could have done about it.

He picked a slow news week for his contract deadline story. And it isn't like we didn't try, either. Someone even concocted some fiction about O.J. Simpson being beaten up in prison by a skinhead, and we didn't jump at that.

Albert Pujols will not be distracted by his deadline, because there's nothing to take his attention away from work. (US Presswire)  
Albert Pujols will not be distracted by his deadline, because there's nothing to take his attention away from work. (US Presswire)  
We had Pujols. We had spring training. And we had the two most meaningless words in the world of sports: Deadline and distraction. It was going to take a whole lot more than 16 years of pent-up O.J. fascination to move us off this one.

Anyway, long story short. Pujols didn't get his alleged demand (another meaningless "d" word) for a 10-year, $300 million contract met, so he didn't sign with the St. Louis Cardinals.

Then again, he may sign on any day, because "deadline" is just a sucker's word, meant as much for us as for the Cardinals.

We love deadlines. We're suckers for them, because we can plan our days around them. The trade and transfer deadlines are now programming staples, and we start talking about them earlier and earlier. They're a news editor's dream.

But there is no such thing as a contract deadline. If Dan Lozano walks up to Pujols on Saturday morning, takes him to breakfast, orders the Denver omelette and says, "Eight years, $240 million," Pujols' deadline is out the window. He'll say yes or he'll say no, but he'll be thinking about it, and Lozano has to bring him any post-deadline offer because he's the agent and that's the job Pujols is paying him to do.

The other one, which is even more laughable, is "distraction." It's a stupid word because it never means what it's supposed to mean. You're distracted by a bird flying at you, or a scantily clad woman being tossed in the air behind the basket support when you're trying to make a free throw, or having the rest of your foursome arrested while you're in your backswing.

You are not distracted by contract talks, unless you have the attention span of a hummingbird. And you are not distracted by stupid/unsavory/illegal things you have done in the past because those are choices. A distraction is by its very nature a surprise. Sexual assault, just to pick one, isn't, and it is insulting to call it that -- even if you think the performance of your favorite player is more important than little things like legality and morality.

In other words, this is neither a distraction nor a deadline. It's an argument about financial planning, and at its heart an annoying little tale of how much of too much is way too much.

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Oh, there may be moments where one can call it a distraction, like when manager Tony La Russa blames the players union for the Pujols issue. That was kind of distracting, if only because it was so silly. I mean, Albert Pujols is 31 years old, a man by any definition, and doesn't need to be urged to ask for more money than the Cardinals want to give him. And if the union was in his ear about it, it would be there for as long as it took Pujols to say, "I know."

That's not a distraction. That's not even a fly buzzing around the ear of the guy in the next locker.

No, you know what this is? This is Pujols playing the game, and this is us being grateful for the game because it gives us something to do other than fret about the Lakers (more empty calories), the NCAA Tournament (still a month away), the NFL lockout (a done deal because everyone wants it to be a done deal) and O.J. Simpson (still healthy, apparently, and still in prison).

This is the slow news week, and though Pujols picked the deadline without knowing it would be a slow news week, it happened to be that, and it became a bigger thing than it needed to be. He can glower and grumble and resent it all he wants, but those are the rules and the rules don't change. He wanted his contract to be a thing, but he couldn't control how big a thing it would be because he can't control the events of the rest of the world.

Not Bernie Madoff and the Mets. Not the Westminster dog show. Not Lance Armstrong's latest retirement. Not the Barry Bonds pretrial motions. Not even the resumption of the Champions League.

But it's his deadline, and his distraction. And neither of those really exist, so what's the big deal? Just this. Give it a few days and we'll stop caring. Until there's an announcement, there's always something else we can amuse ourselves with. In fact, I see another warmed-over Carmelo Anthony rumor coming up the street now. Looks like a five-way deal with the Nuggets, Lakers, Knicks, Clippers and Maccabi Electra Tel Aviv. Sorry. Gotta go.

Ray Ratto is a columnist for Comcast SportsNet Bay Area.com.

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