One-team Hall of Famers react to Pujols
Gwynn, Sandberg, Schmidt weigh in on superstar's decision
On a hot Sunday afternoon in July 2007, Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken Jr. were center stage in Cooperstown, N.Y. The latest inductees into the National Baseball Hall of Fame were celebrated for their remarkable careers, with a twist.
Each player had spent his entire career with the same organization, Gwynn with the San Diego Padres and Ripken with the Baltimore Orioles.
Only a few other Hall of Famers from the free-agent era can say that. Mike Schmidt with the Phillies. George Brett with the Royals. Ryne Sandberg counts. Even though he had a half-dozen at-bats with the Phillies before being traded to the Cubs, he never left after that. Others of note include Jim Rice (Red Sox), Kirby Puckett (Twins) and Robin Yount (Brewers).
It seems inevitable that, someday, Albert Pujols will stand on that same platform. He'll hold his plaque, have his picture taken, give a speech and join baseball's immortals.
Angels sign Pujols, Wilson
Before last week, there was a chance for him to also join the select group of players who are indelibly identified with one club. That changed, of course, when he accepted an overwhelming free-agent offer to leave the Cardinals and sign with the Angels.
Like any baseball fan, the Hall of Famers had mixed emotions as they watched the situation develop.
"I would have loved to have seen him wear a Cardinals uniform his entire career, but this is the decision he made and you have to respect that, and I do," Gwynn said by phone from San Diego. "For me, now it means everything to have spent my career in one city. You would like to see guys stay with one club, but the money has gotten so huge.
"It really doesn't hit you until you retire. Every year, I go to the Hall of Fame [for induction weekend] and I'm sitting at the tables with the guys. We were talking last year about that there were only a few of us who have played on one team. And that's kind of nice, too."
Added Sandberg, from his offseason home in Arizona: "I think it is special, and I think it takes a certain type of player to pull that off and do it for a number of years. But it also takes an organization that feels it doesn't want to lose that player. So what happens is they keep those players under contract so they don't have that opportunity to even think about it."
Schmidt, who lives in Florida, disagreed.
"I don't think it matters at all," he wrote in an e-mail. "The entire career, same team thing is overrated. I think it's a life decision related to family preferences for living, schooling and travel first. Next would be a chance to win over the next five years."
Still, each of those superstar players could have done what Pujols did -- become a free agent, test the market, sign with the highest bidder. None did.
"For me, it was easy," Gwynn said. "Because for the type of hitter I was, everything I needed to do, San Diego was a perfect fit. Line-drive hitter's ballpark, play on the West Coast, no weather concerns. It was an area that I really liked. So when you go through your career, you have to weigh whether the grass is greener somewhere else. Even though the money probably would be better somewhere else, being comfortable was more important.
"And the other thing was, we had no history in San Diego. It wasn't like playing with the Yankees or playing with the Cardinals or playing with the Dodgers, a team steeped in history. We didn't really have that much. And that was intriguing -- being that guy. When you think of the Padres, I guess I'm the guy you think of. That was intriguing, too. I'm not going to lie.
"That was an important factor. You were going to hold all the records, you were probably going to be mentioned in the media guides in the history of your ballclub. So for me, being comfortable and being happy was worth it. Do I regret anything about it? No. This is where I wanted to be, and [I] decided to stay here and finish it out."
Both Gwynn and Sandberg said they never came close to moving because they always signed new contracts long before it became an issue.
"You have to be smart about it," Gwynn said. "I put myself in a position where I wasn't going to get to the point where I had to make a choice. I was always trying to get to a position where we made that decision a couple years before we got there."
Said Sandberg: "I was always under contract with the Cubs. They always kept me under contract and signed at least one year in advance. I was never one season away or a half-season away from free agency and then waiting and going that route. For me, it was a chance to create a home atmosphere in one city. I never had a chance to go to a World Series. It can be tempting to go elsewhere for various reasons."
Still, he made a choice to sign rather than test the market.
"At that point, I think I was loyal to the organization and the fan base and to the team," Sandberg explained. "I always thought that I'd have a chance to go to a World Series with the Cubs, and coming up short in 1984 and 1989 just gave me that taste of it, and I always wanted to strive after those seasons to do that with that organization."
The Cardinals tried to sign Pujols to an extension last spring. When the deal didn't get done, it created the situation that eventually allowed the Angels to swoop in with their offer.
"The Cardinals tried really hard," Gwynn said. "But they [ended up waiting] until other teams could bid. If they really wanted to keep him, they never should have let him get to that point. Because once you get to the free-agent market, you put somebody in a position where somebody can throw a number out there that's so much bigger than your own club -- that's what can happen."
Schmidt remains an avid Phillies fan who spends time with the team each spring as a special instructor.
"I'm glad [Pujols is] out of the National League," Schmidt joked.
Which hat Pujols will wear on his Hall of Fame plaque will probably be determined by how well he performs during his 10-year contract with the Angels. For a handful of Hall of Famers from this era, that was never an issue.
Paul Hagen is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.