Let's pretend for a moment that we hit the lottery big time -- say a couple hundred million dollars -- and we've decided we want to build a professional baseball team from scratch.
We'd have to start somewhere to put this team together, so nine out of 10 of us are going to start with the most important part of the game -- the pitching. I'd like to have at least two of these five guys: Roy Halladay, Felix Hernandez, C.C. Sabathia, Cliff Lee and Ubaldo Jimenez.
If I can pull that off, I'm on my way.
That done, the next step is to add one everyday player around which the entire team will be built.
For me, that's a simple choice. I'd take Albert Pujols every time.
Not everyone would make that choice, I know.
The only thing is, you almost have to make a choice between power and speed. Usually, I'd take speed. In this case, because of his consistency, I'd take the power. Better still, I'd take the power with the added benefit of hitting for average. And Pujols is a power hitter who doesn't strike out very often. He's a rare commodity.
Not only that, but the man is a class act from top to bottom. He represents Major League Baseball and the St. Louis Cardinals as well as anyone ever has -- the possible exception being Stan Musial.
Oh, and one more thing -- he just turned 31. A young guy. He's not even in his prime yet, so his best years are yet to come (as long as he stays healthy).
So what in the world has prevented the Cardinals from nailing this guy down for the rest of his career? I don't get it. If ever anyone deserved it, he does. A nine-time all-star. Three MVPs. Two Gold Gloves. A batting title. And he led the league in home runs twice. If he stopped playing right now, he'd make the Hall of Fame. But he's got 10 years to go, at least, on a great career.
Pujols' contract runs out at the end of the season that's about to start. He wanted to renegotiate a new contract before spring training began. It didn't get done.
No one knows all the details, but it's been reported that Pujols would like to have a 10-year contract and the Cards are holding out for seven years.
I understand the reluctance to negotiate long-term deals. In fact, I support that approach 99 percent of the time. I'd make an exception for Pujols. Why? Because he's shown excellence over many years. He's no flash in the pan.
In fact, he's the first player in baseball history to hit .300 with 30 home runs and 100 RBIs for 10 consecutive seasons. He may turn out to be the best hitter ever. Hey, he may already be the best hitter ever.
If Pujols becomes a free agent, it's hard to tell what might happen. I know one thing for sure -- there will be several teams with deep pockets that will give Pujols what he wants for as long as he wants it.
There is something special about those players who play their entire careers with one team. They're becoming more and more rare with every passing season. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, there have been only 62 players in the 100-plus years of Major League Baseball who played at least 15 years in the majors and played their entire careers with one team.
Of those, 35 -- that's 56 percent -- are in the Hall of Fame.
We're talking guys such as Ernie Banks, Johnny Bench, George Brett, Roberto Clemente, Bob Feller, Lou Gehrig, Brooks Robinson, Tony Gwynn, Al Kaline, Mickey Mantle, Stan Musial, Cal Ripken Jr., Ted Williams, Mike Schmidt and 21 others.
There is something good to be said about that kind of loyalty to a team and to a city.
It's a special bunch of players -- a group that guys such as Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriquez and Roger Clemens will never be a part of. Because they jumped around. They sold their souls to the highest bidder when this handful of other players -- Derek Jeter is another, and so are Chipper Jones and Mariano Rivera -- held tightly to the turf most familiar.
Pujols could be and should be on that list at the end of his career.
I don't know what St. Louis is waiting for because Pujols is going to become the highest paid player in the game no matter where he ends up next season. If the question is seven years versus 10, I'd take the 10 in Pujols' case and figure I was more than getting my money's worth.
And after I signed him, I'd work very hard to have my new team in the American League so I could continue to suit up Pujols every day as a designated hitter in the last couple years of his career.
It's the stuff of which baseball dreams are made.
Sports columns by Larry A. Hicks, Dispatch colum nist, run Thursdays. E- mail: lhicks@yorkdis patch.com.