It wasn’t until Saturday afternoon when I snapped out of a complete state of denial. Thursday morning, Albert Pujols became a member of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. I had accepted that. But what I also accepted was that this was OK because the player Cardinal Nation so affectionately referred to as “The Mang” was already regressing from the player he once was. Albert isn’t in full-blown decline, but his numbers have been trending down over the past 3 or 4 seasons. In 2008, he hit .357… and each year since his average has declined. In 2011, he hit .299. The same goes for his power numbers: In 2009, he had 47 HRs and 135 RBIs. Those categories each decline over the past 2 seasons, down to 37 HRs and 99 RBIs in 2011. I just knew that paying Pujols more than $200 million dollars would cripple the Cardinals’ payroll and the team’s chances of contending over the course of his contract.
I told myself I didn’t want to see Pujols hit his 500th, 600th, and 700th home runs in Cardinal red if it meant that team wouldn’t be contending. I told myself the McGwire years were overrated, and that winning was much more fun than watching a sub-.500 team with a heavy hitter’s home run quest as the main attraction. My mind says all of these things are still true.
But my heart says I’m wrong.
Something changed as I watched Albert Pujols’ be officially introduced as a member of the Angels organization Saturday. As he gleefully and somewhat nervously buttoned the buttons on his fresh, new home white Angels Jersey and heard him speak about being a member of a new team, I realized something: This was not a temporary breakup from St. Louis… this was a divorce.
It kills me to say this, but barring a career ending injury or early retirement, history will remember Albert Pujols as an Angel. He will spend the next 10 seasons in Anaheim finishing out his Hall of Fame career. During that time, he will more than like hit his 500th, 600th, and 700th home runs. There is a chance he will even break Barry Bonds’ career home run record of 762. To do that, he’d need to average just over 31 home runs per season over the course of his contract. Albert has never hit fewer than 32 in a season thus far. Considering he is one of the fiercest competitors ever, there is a pretty good chance the Angels will win multiple World Series championships with Pujols in the heart of their lineup. I mean think about it. St. Louis is the 6th smallest market in all of major league baseball, and never eclipsed the top 10 in team payroll during his 11 season in Cardinal red. But despite that, Pujols led the Cardinals to 7 playoff appearances, 5 trips to the NLCS, 3 trips to the World Series, and 2 World Championships… so I’m thinkin’ with a team in baseball’s 2nd largest market that’s always in the top 10 in team payroll, Pujols and the Angels are going to have no problem winning at least a couple of championships over the next decade. In other words, he’ll be able to match or exceed many of his accomplishments in St. Louis, and will be hitting historic milestones in Los Angeles along the way.
Now let me ask you this: Do you think of Barry Bonds as a Pirate or a Giant? Do you think of Babe Ruth as a Red Sock or a Yankee? To a lesser degree, is Jim Edmonds going to be remembered as an Angel or a Cardinal? It’s really hard to swallow, but I think Albert is going to be remembered as an Angel.
Greg also writes for KSPR out of Springfield, Missouri. He recently took a look at where the Cardinals and Pujols need to go from here. You can read that article by clicking here.
Los Angeles owner, Arte Moreno offered Albert what’s being referred to as a “personal services” contract for when he retires. It assures him some sort of a job with the Angels organization for the decade following his historic $254 million contract. So for a minimum of 20 years, Pujols will be an ambassador for the Los Angeles Angels. That means in 2026, when he enters the baseball Hall of Fame, he’ll still be an employee of the Angels organization. Would he really enter the hall with the STL emblem on his cap? After 15 years, the Angels will be his new and final baseball family. Like I said, this is a divorce.
On Opening Day in St. Louis, there will always be Budweiser Clydesdales. Until the day they die, there will always be Lou Brock, Bob Gibson, Ozzie Smith, Bruce Sutter, and Stan “the man” Musial. There will be fathers and grandfathers telling the youngest members of their families about all those great players. There will be stories of clutch-hits, unbelievable comebacks, and World Championships.
But will Albert Pujols be there? Will he take those well-deserved annual victory laps around Busch Stadium? Will he be there to spark our memories… so that the next generation of Cardinals’ fans can hear about the time he saved a season and silenced a city by taking Brad Lidge deep? About the time hit three home runs in a single World Series game? I’m afraid the answer is “no”… and that, more than anything else, is what hurts the most.
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