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CBSSports.com Senior Baseball Columnist

Pujols' move leaves St. Louis in shock, Anaheim in awe


DALLAS -- Gateway to the West, huh? Uh-huh. Straight through the St. Louis Arch and gone.

It was never supposed to be like this. Not for this man. Not for Albert Pujols. But here we are, just past the crossroads of one of the most historic free-agent decisions ever, and Pujols duck-walks right out of St. Louis. Straight west to Anaheim.

For much of the past decade, you couldn't walk past Busch Stadium and that statue of Stan Musial without eyeballing the area, sizing it up for a future statue of Pujols.

Instead, the Grand Canyon has moved to St. Louis. There is a monumental chasm where a landmark once stood.

Pujols' legacy is forever altered, for better or worse, for richer but most certainly not poorer. Not at 10 years and $254 million, the second-most lucrative contract in baseball history. (Angels owner Arte Moreno, by the way, paid $183 million for the entire franchise in 2003.)

In many quarters of St. Louis, Pujols no doubt will move from franchise icon and certain Hall of Famer to greedy mercenary. From a man who always said it wasn't about the money to just another shifty -- albeit sensational -- player who is here one day and gone the next.

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In Anaheim, on one of the biggest days in its history. Pujols instantly becomes the larger-than-life face of a franchise that has tried for 50 years to crawl out from under the shadow of the downtown Dodgers. Legacy? Hey Albert, can you chase down the ghosts of Sandy Koufax and Duke Snider?

"This is something that changes a franchise and something that changes a community," said Jerry Dipoto, who knocked it out of the park during his first winter meetings as Angels general manager.

Like many of the rest of us, even after the Angels charged into the Pujols derby, Dipoto still had a difficult time believing the slugger would actually yank up his roots and leave the only professional home he has ever known.

Fact is, Dipoto remembers exactly when he began to believe that Pujols might actually pack up and leave St. Louis.

"This morning," Dipoto said, referring to when he received a message from agent Dan Lozano that, after praying on it, Pujols had decided to become an Angel. "I operated throughout the whole thing as respectfully as possible regarding Albert and his personal and emotional ties."

Already, on the website of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, a headline: "Pujols turns his back on St. Louis."

"It's a great thing for the Angels," said Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik, who will have the Pujols monster to contend with in the AL West. "I'm sure St. Louis fans will be heartbroken."

For so many, the World Series confetti will dissolve into tears. How strange it will be when the Cardinals line up to receive World Series rings next April and they have to FedEx Albert's to the Disneyland ZIP code.

Yet this is the world we live in. Life changes rapidly. Technology advances. Here today, gone tomorrow.

The Cardinals left the Hilton Anatole without a sound earlier than expected Thursday, avoiding for as long as possible what will be a roaring fallout. They acknowledged the departure of one of the greatest players in franchise history in a release e-mailed while general manager John Mozeliak was in the air, flying home.

"Albert has been a special player in this organization since the moment he was drafted over 12 years ago," read the statement attributed to Mozeliak.

Special? Yeah, that's one word, and it's awfully tame. I suppose a spectacular sunset in Hawaii is "nice", too.

Musial and Pujols, permanent statue and footprints in the sand.

"Albert is a great champion and we will always be thankful for his many achievements in a Cardinals uniform, as well as his contributions to the St. Louis community," Cardinals chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. said. "I have the highest regard for Albert both personally and professionally, and appreciate his direct involvement in this process.

"I would like our fans to know that we tried our best to make Albert a lifetime Cardinal but unfortunately we were unable to make it happen."

We know now what we've wondered for the past year: Pujols was built without the Cal Ripken Jr. gene. He is to Kirby Puckett and Tony Gwynn what iTunes is to the vinyl album. He is portable, not permanent.

Few players ever impact one franchise the way Pujols did St. Louis. Precious fewer ever have the opportunity to significantly alter two franchises the way Pujols now does.

"I cannot believe that he left St. Louis," Angels outfielder Torii Hunter told CBSSports.com about 90 minutes after he learned the news. "That was his ID. His ID was St. Louis.

"Those fans are going to miss him. When you think of St. Louis, you think of Albert Pujols. He didn't get what he wanted, so he had to leave. I know. I had to leave Minnesota. I loved the fans loved me.

"He had all the numbers. ... I know it's tough for him to leave. Just because he made his decision, it doesn't mean he's not sorry.

"He's probably hurting today."

Pujols' decision is city-changing, game-changing and franchise-changing. He has won two World Series rings in St. Louis since the Angels won their only title in 2002.

Meanwhile, a once-dominant Angels team that has missed the playoffs in each of the past two seasons is poised to rise again.

"Our job is more challenging," said Rangers assistant GM Thad Levine, whose club has won the past two American League pennants. "We just saw him for seven games [in the World Series this October] and I can't say we figured him out.

"Even though we've won the last two years, we've still seen them as the class of the division."

Moreno's desire to win is maniacal, Steinbrenner-esque. But even those who know him and the Angels were stunned by this.

"I didn't expect them to play on Pujols," Yankees GM Brian Cashman said. "It just didn't seem like that was something Arte Moreno would do."

A proven winner himself who this winter lost the only major-league manager for whom he has ever played when Tony La Russa retired, maybe Pujols recognized something in Moreno. The Angels' owner was heavily involved in the recruiting process.

The Cardinals countered with Musial, according to a source, employing him to lob a recruiting call to Pujols. That they felt the need to do that probably speaks to one of two things, either to the fact the Cards' financial package was being dwarfed by rivals or that the split between the club and Pujols had sadly and inexplicably widened too far for an intensely proud man to pause and look back.

"One thing I think about is Steinbrenner," Hunter said. "All the years he shelled out the money, some people were upset. Well guess what? [Moreno] is going to get it back through TV rights, endorsements, and if you win then the money is going to come back to you.

"You put the product on the field, that's saying, 'You build it, and they will come.' They were coming out anyway, and we just got C.J. Wilson, too."

Scott Boras, the agent for Prince Fielder, said similar things a night earlier in discussing Fielder and Pujols.

"These players have so much value to them because they have value from the media content, they increase your RSN [regional sports network] value tremendously, they also increase your attendance and they also allow ownership to retain ancillary players at a greater rate because those players want to stay on a winning team with a core player like that."

Two examples from Pujols' old days belong to Boras' stable of clients, outfielder Matt Holliday and pitcher Kyle Lohse. Each signed with the Cardinals because it was a place to win, and win they did.

You can still hear the echoes from that October night when one of the most unlikely World Series winners ever knocked off the Rangers, a final sprint jet-propelled when Pujols single-handedly stomped Texas in Game 3 with three home runs and six RBI, the greatest individual offensive display ever in a World Series game.

It was a performance that, on one stunning and astounding December day, instantly turned bittersweet for anyone rooting for the Cardinals. And one that undoubtedly will have the Angels and their fans watching replays until the beginning of spring training.

"We all know how great a player he is," Cashman said. "The Angels just acquired one of the greatest of all time."


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