First Timothy and the first baseman

As I may have mentioned once or twice here, I'm the world's biggest St. Louis Cardinals fan. A high percentage of my free time in the last week has been spent thinking about the contract negotiations between the Cardinals and one of my very favorite players throughout history -- Albert Pujols. If you've never been blessed with the opportunity to see Pujols in action, you should try to remedy that in the next few years. He combines power hitting with clutch performances to the delight of Cardinals fans around the country. He's also, by all accounts, a seriously nice guy with excellent leadership skills. And that's before we even get to the non-baseball stuff, like how he adopted his wife's daughter who has Down Syndrome. His Pujols Family Foundation is dedicated to "the love, care and development of people with Down syndrome and their families" and aiding the poor in the Dominican Republic. He's played his entire career with the Cardinals.

The thing is that his contract will be expiring and it's a bit of a touchy situation. The Cardinals already have one of the most dedicated fan bases in the country. Whether they keep Pujols or not will have very little effect on their money-making. But with a player as good as Pujols, many teams would spend a lot of money to get him. Before he turned 30, he already ranked as one of the very best players in baseball history including in on-base and slugging percentage. Only one other person has ever hit more home runs in the first five years of their career. He was one of the youngest to hit 350 homers. He holds the Cardinals record for most grand slams, breaking Stan Musial's record of nine. He's also set the Cards' record for most assists by a first baseman in a single game (yes, seven) and the National League record for most assists by a first baseman in a given season with 182.

Pujols is an outspoken evangelical and frequently talks about the role that faith plays in his work:

In spite of his accomplishments, Pujols has said he does not play solely for the numbers. "I don't play for numbers. I play first of all to glorify God and to accomplish in this game what everybody wants to accomplish, which is getting to the World Series and coming up with a win at the end. Those are the things that I really try to focus on and try to make sure that I do every day for the rest of my career."

These contract negotiations have been grueling for the organization and its fans. I thought about how interesting it would be to discuss the role of Pujols' faith in all of this but didn't even dare to hope that such a report would be forthcoming. Well, religion reporter Tim Townsend at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch did just that. And it's great. You have to read the whole article since excerpting any of it runs the risk of giving the wrong impression. But I'll just show you a couple of the ways he handles the big dilemmas for how Christians handle their role in the market:

But a particular group of Cardinals fans -- made up of those who share Pujols' faith -- was asking a different kind of question. What does holding out for the largest contract in the history of baseball say about Albert's Christian testimony? ...

So as Pujols began looking to many like a typical mega-wealthy superstar athlete angling for a record payday, some have asked how Pujols' public, God-fearing image squares with a private quest for wealth.

The Rev. Darrin Patrick, pastor of The Journey, a church in St. Louis that counts a number of professional athletes as members, said Jesus warned against greed.

"Nobody really confesses to that sin," Patrick said. "Lust, anxiety -- sure. But very few people say, 'I'm greedy,' and I absolutely think that (Pujols) should be on guard for that."

The article then goes into a nice discussion of what 1 Timothy has to say about the "uncomfortable intersection of the New Testament and capitalism." One Baptist pastor, the Rev. Scott Lamb, has written a book about Pujols' faith. He talks about how the consumption mentality is very American but not very Biblical. Then we get a nice discussion about proportional giving and how it plays into the matter since the Pujols have been tithing since they were poor. Some groups stand to do very well if Pujols lands a major contract. See? A nice well-rounded report. Here's a bit from the ending:

"I've never met anyone with more passion for serving, and serving poor than Albert," [said Tony Biaggne, director of creative communications at The Crossing]. ..

"I reject any idea that a person's Christianity should cause them to step away from what the market would demand for them," said Lamb. "Albert will go down in history as one of the great ones -- someone who grabbed the money, and gave it away at the same time."

I always get nervous when reporters write about sports and religion. Some suffer from being too deferential. Others only know how to mock. This is a great example of asking some tough questions without presuming to know the answers. I also like how this story -- ostensibly about a baseball hero -- has a lot to say about how each of us might approach salary negotiations and what to do with our compensation.

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