What are the job requirements of a major league baseball player?
Show up on time. Play hard. Maybe sign a few autographs every now and then for the fans. Be a good teammate. Deal with the media.
The last one? Not always pleasant, rarely fun, but part of the job.
Albert Pujols left the clubhouse immediately after the Cardinals' heartbreaking loss in Game 2 of the World Series -- a game in which Pujols made a critical error in the ninth inning, failing to cut off Jon Jay's throw from the outfield, allowing Elvis Andrus to move into scoring position with no outs. Two fly balls later, Andrus scored the winning run.
Something like this happens every postseason, it seems: Star player bolts early, media doesn't like it, story takes on a life of its own. So today, instead of talking about the wondrous play of Andrus, the double-play gymnastics and clutch stolen base of Ian Kinsler, or even the managerial twists and turns of Tony La Russa and Ron Washington, we're talking about Pujols ... the king of the Cardinals, one of the greatest ballplayers of all time, the impending free agent, the team leader making $16 million and soon to make a whole lot more.
Oops ... did I say team leader?
While Pujols dodged the media -- to be fair, so did fellow veterans Matt Holliday, Yadier Molina and the usually accommodating Lance Berkman -- his teammates were left to meet the hordes after the grueling loss. Jason Motte, the guy who gave up the go-ahead baserunners, sat and answered questions for 30 minutes ... the same questions, one pack of reporters followed by another. Jay talked about his poor throw from center field to Pujols.
Look, is this an overblown issue? Yes, I think it is. "Leadership" is thrown around too easily, too carelessly -- no matter the sport, situation, time of season or action. I always remember what Jim Leyland once said when he managed Barry Bonds with the Pirates: "Leadership is 30 home runs and 30 stolen bases." And it's a fine line about the media being unhappy about its access and turning that, rather than what happened on the field, into a story, when most fans might not care. (Do you? Vote in the poll.)
Are the Cardinals less likely to win the World Series because Pujols and friends didn't talk? No, that would be a ridiculous assertion to make, but isn't that exactly the implication by suggesting Pujols displayed poor leadership? Motte will pitch well or not pitch well in his next appearances regardless of the fact that he had to talk about his blown save for 30 minutes. But there is an element of obligation here. Pujols was involved in one of the most important plays of the game, arguably the most important. He should talk about it, even if for just a few minutes, and he can even be surly and grumpy, like he was after the Cardinals lost Game 1 of the National League Championship Series.
It gets back to being a good teammate. It's probably the easiest item on the list. And Thursday night, Pujols was not a good teammate. (Although to use the Leyland analogy, if he hits two home runs Saturday, all is well, I suppose.)
As the Cardinals decide how much to offer Pujols this offseason, it is perhaps revealing that as Pujols played what could be his final home game in a Cardinals uniform, the player who received the loudest cheers and chants from the crowd was not the legendary first baseman, but Yadier Molina.