The St. Louis Cardinals will soon be in Anaheim for a three game series with the Angels. Unlike most inter-league series, this one should be off the charts in terms of interest for Cardinals fans as it will be the first time we have had a chance to see Albert Pujols on the other side of the field. Perhaps it is best that this confrontation will be made far from place where Pujols etched his name in the history books, because it gives us a chance to look back and put some things in perspectives.
When Pujols eventually returns to St. Louis, I hope that fans remember the 11 years he played for the Cardinals. In those 11 seasons, he accumulated 2,073 hits, 445 home runs, 1,329 RBIs. His career slash line while in St. Louis was a ridiculous .328 / .420 / .617. That adds up to a career OPS of 1.027 (or perhaps more significant, an OPS+ of 170, comparing to that of his peers).
Albert Pujols was the National League Rookie of the Year in 2001, only the sixth Cardinal to win that award (Wally Moon, Bill Virdon, Bake McBride, Vince Coleman and Todd Worrell). Pujols was also a 3 time MVP, tying Stan Musial for the most in Cardinals history. Perhaps if the baseball writers had the same anti-PED indignation they seem to have now, Pujols might have had three or four more to go with the those that he actually won. He also represented the Cardinals at the All Star Game in nine of his eleven seasons, but none were as memorable as when the mid-summer exhibition took place in St. Louis in 2009. For a week, Pujols was the honorable ambassador from St. Louis to the rest of the sporting world, and he did that with dignity, class and pride. Cardinals fans should remember this.
Pujols was not the most gifted defender when he began his career, but worked tirelessly to improve. He did exactly that, becoming one of the best at his final position of first base. He eventually won two Gold Glove awards, and might have been deserving of a few more.
Of course, Cardinals fans should know all of this and more. They should not need to be reminded about the Pujols Family Foundation and all the good things they are doing for families that have children with Down’s Syndrome. Even though Pujols wears different uniform these days, the foundation bearing his name is still very active in the St. Louis area.
But it is impossible to forget the events in early December, 2011. The few weeks of drama with Matt Holliday’s free agent signing in 2010 was nothing compared to the years of speculation surrounding where Pujols would end up. In each post-season clinching game, an extra moment was taken during Pujols final at-bat, wondering if it was the last one we would see in St. Louis. Unfortunately, that would happen on October 28, 2011. Perhaps a sign of what was to about to come, it would be a strike out and not some memorable game winning home run.
But even that final plate apperance should be completely forgotten as it took place at the end of an historic season, one that Cardinals fans will not soon forget. Joining the 1964 Cardinals in the Hall of Overachievers Fame, the Pujols led team won their 11th World Championship, not on the back of one player, but on a seemingly endless series of big moments from just about every player on the roster. Instead of that final strikeouts, we should remember him scoring the sixth run in Game Six, while waiving in Lance Berkman with the tying run. If the Rangers don’t walk Pujols in the tenth inning, maybe he would have been the game winning hero instead of David Freese. And who can forget Game Three, with Pujols going 5-6 with 3 home runs and 6 RBIs ?
When Cardinals fans finally get a chance to see Albert Pujols , either this week in Anaheim or when the Angels make their next trip to St. Louis , I hope they remember the eleven years when he was arguably the best player in the game. That is something that Angels fans have yet to see from Pujols, but perhaps they will at some point. I hope Cardinals fans remember him celebrating an NL Championship in 2004 and a pair of World Championships in 2006 and 2011, and not so much the day he put on the Angels uniform for the first time.
Some fans will blame Pujols for the contract he signed with the Los Angeles Angels, projecting our disappointment on him as greed, or perhaps worse. Sure, some of us were disappointed when we learned he would not finish out his career as Stan Musial did, playing for just the Cardinals. In truth, Pujols is not the bad guy here as he is just working within the system currently governing the sport in which he earns a living. Instead of hating Pujols, turn that frustration in the direction of the league office, players union and ownership that has created this monstrosity.
Or, perhaps even more constructively, applaud the current ownership of the Cardinals for not mortgaging the future of the franchise on just one player for the sole purposes of merchandizing.
It took a lot of courage from both parties – the front office for allowing Pujols to get away, and Pujols himself for walking away from a fan base that he had built over the last decade.
Should I get the chance to see Pujols again, even wearing the Angels uniform, I will give him a standing ovation and applaud until my hands have no more feeling. His eleven seasons in St. Louis deserve that treatment from every fan. 1,705 games where he gave us something to cheer about more than makes up for those few days of disappointment after learning Pujols would end his career in Los Angeles. Spend the time and energy cheering for Allen Craig, Yadier Molina, Adam Wainwright, Matt Adams and those amazing young arms. When you get the chance, reward Pujols one more time for all that he did to lead the team that means so much to us. Don’t let the disappointments over his free agency signing send a black cloud over one of the greatest chapters in Cardinals history.