St. Louis is a city of good sports, but it’s hard for fans these days not to take a jab at Albert Pujols, the longtime centerpiece of their beloved Cardinals, especially now that they are in the playoffs without him.
The narrative still stings for many St. Louisans: No. 5 “betrayed” an adoring fan base and bolted for Los Angeles and more money.
So with success minus Pujols — the Cardinals are in the National League Championship Series and El Hombre is . . . well, where is he? — the temptation to rub it in is pretty strong. Especially in the somewhat anonymous world of social media.
“Hey, remember that guy Albert Pujols? Yeah, me either,” said one Cardinals fan on Twitter, where Pujols jabs have become their own sport.
Added another: “Sometimes when I’m alone, I sit on my couch, watch the Cardinals game and pretend I’m Albert Pujols.”
It’s hard not to gloat after your pride is bruised. After all, Pujols and the Angels didn’t make it out of the regular season. And the Cardinals, with scrappy, young players named Craig, Descalso and Kozma, are playing in Game 3 of the NLCS on Wednesday.
“I knew they could do it,” said fan Charles Collins, 43, who was at Busch Stadium on Monday trying to land tickets. “It’s not like they lost the whole team.”
He remains a Pujols fan and said he doesn’t hold a grudge. But even Collins, a pleasant man from south St. Louis, couldn’t resist a little poke at Pujols. Referring to Wednesday’s game at Busch Stadium, he said: “Pujols will be at home watching it. Like everyone else.”
That’s the assumption, anyway. A request for comment from Pujols through his handlers was not answered. (To be fair, it should be noted that the Angels actually ended up with one more win than the Cardinals — but not enough to secure a playoff spot in the American League).
At West Port Plaza, a statue of Pujols was unveiled in November, before he signed with L.A. But three months after Pujols made the announcement, the nearby restaurant removed his name.
The restaurant had been known as “Pujols 5 West Port Grill” for five years. Adding the Pujols name on Aug. 30, 2006, was an instant success, said owner Patrick Hanon. Pujols did not have an ownership position in the restaurant but agreed to lend his name and appear a few times a year in exchange for a percentage of sales.
“Sales went through the roof,” Hanon said. “We didn’t have to put one ad in the paper. We were busy, busy, busy.”
But by December, a month after the statue was unveiled, news broke that Pujols would no longer be a Cardinal. The three-time National League MVP was heading to the City of Angels.
Business at Hanon’s restaurant began dropping “like a lead balloon,” he said.
In his restaurant this week, he pulled out a calculator, punched in some numbers, then showed the results: $23,000.
“That’s how much I lost a week. I was $1.2 million off in business a year,” Hanon said.
He said he lost his house and nearly his business, but bankers have been patient as he rebuilds a customer base.
At first, Hanon renamed Pujols 5 the “Hall of Fame Sports Bar and Grill,” hoping an impressive collection of sports memorabilia would keep customers coming in. It didn’t. Hanon changed it back to “Patrick’s Restaurant and Sports Bar,” the name of the eatery for 23 years before joining with Pujols.
No. 5 treasures that were once displayed at the restaurant, such as MVP, Gold Glove and Silver Slugger awards, have been removed by Pujols’ foundation.
Hanon saw Pujols as a national figure, like Mickey Mantle, and thought fans here would continue to come to the restaurant no matter where the slugger ended up.
“Man, I misread that,” Hanon said.
Despite his restaurant’s struggles, though, Hanon remains a Pujols supporter. “If St. Louis would forgive him, I’d take him back in a minute.”
The statue, owned by the Pujols Family Foundation, is expected to stay at West Port for now, Hanon said. It’s tucked behind the restaurant, not visible from the entrance.
At this afternoon’s game at Busch, there will be other fans who have no lingering hard feelings. Some will still wear No. 5 jerseys, like fans have done all season.
Of course, if they stop by the stadium’s team store, they will find no Pujols jerseys. The jerseys of former greats, such as Ozzie Smith and Willie McGee, will be there, as well as those for current players such as David Freese, Matt Holliday and Adam Wainwright. But no No. 5’s.
Brian Cotton, a ticket broker who was outside Busch Stadium on Monday afternoon, said demand for Cardinals tickets did not slow this year. And with the Cardinals in the postseason, it doesn’t matter who is on the roster.
Manager Mike Matheny “has done a great job with the farm system,” Cotton said. “And we are here again — without Albert Pujols.”