Pujols signing forever changes Angels

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Long after the cameras had been turned off and the 4,200 fans who'd come to Angels Stadium to celebrate Albert Pujols' signing with the Angels -- or maybe just to verify it really happened -- owner Arte Moreno and his wife, Carole, took a stroll around the Diamond Club to greet the media, season-ticket holders, and players who were still around and making sense of one of the grandest days in franchise history.

Arte Moreno had long since loosened his tie and taken off his jacket. His public performance was over for the day. It was time to relax and enjoy what he'd just done. Carole Moreno, as always, was by his side.

She has always known more than she'd ever say publicly. She's up on baseball news as much as her husband, calling him when something scrolls across the ESPN ticker or talking through ideas with him when he needs another sound mind to bounce an idea off. Arte even joked that it was Carole who had to give the final green light for him to authorize Pujols' 10-year, $254 million contract.

For years she had watched her husband take criticism for the free-agent signings he didn't make. Deals that fans clamored for out of passion, but didn't always make financial or baseball sense to the Angels. The names and numbers are familiar by now: Carl Crawford (seven years, $142 million), Mark Teixeira (eight years, $180 million), CC Sabathia (seven years, $161 million).

Those deals look different now than they did then, and not just because Crawford couldn't come up with Robert Andino's sinking line drive in left field on Sept. 29.

No. Those deals look different now because by standing his ground then, Arte Moreno was able to break new ground with this franchise-altering deal.

"It's amazing how things work out," Carole Moreno said with a wry smile. "How life turns out."

A lot of grand-sounding words were used in the first 48 hours after the Angels convinced the best hitter of his generation to leave the St. Louis Cardinals and finish his career in Anaheim. Words such as shocking and staggering appeared in almost every story. General managers across baseball were alternately numb and totally impressed.

This was the type of move the Yankees or Red Sox would make, not a plucky little franchise such as the Angels. A big-boy signing, as bold as it was brash.

It's not often that descriptions like that are actually appropriate. The sports world has a very limited vocabulary when it comes to judging the effect of big events.

But in this case, all those words not only fit, but might even be inadequate in describing just how big a splash the Angels made.

"This is an organization changer," Angels outfielder Torii Hunter said. "If you think about it, there's never really been an Albert Pujols on the market. If you're going to spend the money, spend it on this guy.

"Arte put it out there and said, 'Give this guy what he needs because he's the best player in the game.' CC Sabathia, Carl Crawford. They weren't the best like this guy is. I gotta say, Arte stepped out and did the right thing.

"If there's anybody to get, this is the player to get. This is Albert Pujols."

Two months ago, this was a franchise that seemed stagnant and stained after firing general manager Tony Reagins and overhauling its front-office staff. Two years ago, this was a franchise just hoping to recreate the chemistry and camaraderie it once conjured in a magical 2002 run to a World Series title. Twenty years ago, it was known as the California Angels in the hopes that it would appeal to a wider audience than Orange County.

Today, the Angels are the team with which Albert Pujols will break all of baseball's hallowed records.

Those who have been around here awhile compared this to the day Reggie Jackson signed here as a free agent. That's a good comparison, but it's also still underplaying the effect of this signing. Jackson was already 36 when he signed with the Angels in 1982. And while he hit 123 home runs in his five seasons here -- still ninth most in franchise history -- his best days were already behind him, back in Oakland and New York.

Pujols is still just 31. And while he surely won't look nearly as good at 41, in the final season of this 10-year deal, that's not the kind of thing anyone should worry about.

Who knows where any of us will be in 2021? Who knows what the league will look like? What sports will look like? Or even whether Arte Moreno will still own the team by then?

No. You sign a once-in-a-generation player such as Pujols because you get only one or two opportunities in a lifetime to change the course of an organization.

"It was just time for us," Moreno said. "We've been building a franchise here, the fans have been great, we just felt like it was really the time to make the investment.

"For us to get this opportunity, it was really magical."

Moreno is a baseball fan as well as an owner. He sits in the stands during spring training games, talks shop with veterans and tunes the televisions in his suite to six or seven games in a night.

"I have favorite players on every team," he said. "All of us owners, all 30 teams, we all talk about who the best player is. Who we'd start an organization with, it's a guy like [Pujols]."

On Saturday afternoon, Moreno stood shoulder to shoulder with Pujols and posed for photos as some 4,200 fans deliriously chanted his name. The tall first baseman from the Dominican Republic stands 6 feet, 3 inches tall. Moreno is more like 5-11. At one point, completely unknowingly, Moreno raised up on his toes to even things out.

There was no need. He was already standing tall.

Ramona Shelburne is a reporter and columnist for ESPNLosAngeles.com.