Burying the Hatchet and Appreciating Albert Pujols

Burying the Hatchet and Appreciating Albert Pujols

We all appreciated Albert Pujols’ career as a Cardinal, but maybe it’s time to appreciate his total body of work including the Los Angeles Pujols.

630. That’s where Jose Alberto Pujols Alcantara, or Albert Pujols as the baseball world knows him, sits right now on home runs. Albert hit two home runs on Thursday, July 12, against the Seattle Mariners. This tied Albert with Ken Griffey Jr at 630 HR for 6th on the all-time home run list.

The next day he received a platelet-rich plasma injection in his left knee and then placed on the 10-day DL. Albert had been suffering from inflammation in that knee for several weeks. Manager Mike Scioscia said using the 10 day DL along with the All-Star break gives Albert rest while only missing six games.

Where the Elite Dwell

With each new hit, each new RBI, each new HR, etc., Albert either ties, breaks, or creeps closer to a record or climbs higher up on the lists of career stats where only the elite dwell. For example, did you know that Albert became only one of four players in MLB history, ever, to reach 3,000 hits and 600 HR?

The other three? None other than Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, and Alex Rodriguez. Out of over a century of baseball being played and the numerous amount of players who have played the game, that’s right, Albert is one of only four players to achieve such a feat.

How about this one….with 14 seasons of 100 or more RBI Albert is one of only two players in MLB history to achieve such a feat, with Alex Rodriguez being the other. Like I said, elite.

There are numerous elite stats to throw at you regarding Albert ranking him with the best that have ever played the game, but you get the drift, Albert is good at baseball! Not too shabby for a kid from Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic who used to play the game of baseball he loved using a lime for a baseball and a milk carton for a glove.

Path to St. Louis

As mentioned, Albert grew up in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic and his wasn’t a normal childhood. He was an only child and mostly raised by his grandmother, America Pujols. His dad, Bienvenido Pujols, was a softball pitcher who was also an alcoholic and Albert usually found himself, around 10 years old, having to help his drunken dad home after he’d drink with his buddies after their games.

Eventually, Albert, his father, and grandmother immigrated to America (New York City) in 1996 but later moved to Independence, Missouri to join relatives, partly due to Albert witnessing a shooting in a grocery store.

Skip forward through Albert’s high school and college playing days (which were elite as well) and it brings us to the day Albert Pujols was drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals.  Albert was drafted 402nd overall in the 13th round of the 1999 MLB draft.  After playing like a man among boys throughout the Cardinals farm system Albert got his shot at the bigs in 2001.

A lot of people think Albert got promoted to the big league club because of an injury to Bobby Bonilla, but Cardinals manager at the time, Tony LaRussa, in his book One Last Strike, said the decision had already been made to add Albert to the opening day roster even before Bonilla’s injury.

Mark McGwire had also told LaRussa that if he didn’t add Albert to the opening day roster that it could be “one of the worst mistakes of your career”. So, Albert was added, and nothing but greatness followed.

The Cardinals Years

Albert took off in the major league like being shot out of a cannon. He went on to play a full year in 2001 sharing playing time at third base, first base, and the outfield. Albert won Rookie of the Year that year posting a slash line of .329 BA/.403 OBP/.610 slug %/1.013 OPS/ with 37 HR and 130 RBI. It was one of the greatest Rookie campaigns ever posted in MLB.

He also made the All-Star team, finished fourth in MVP voting, and won a Silver Slugger award that rookie year as well. Impressive. Along with that rookie season, Albert then went on and put up numbers for the next 10 seasons that rival any of the greats who have ever played the game.

The stats are numerous to mention and I won’t cover them all in this article, but Albert went on to help the St. Louis Cardinals pose a year-after-year postseason presence in one of the franchise’s greatest eras. Albert helped bring the Cardinals two World Series Championships (2006, 2011) while appearing in another which they ended up losing to the Boston Red Sox (2004).

Albert won 3 MVP awards while with the Cardinals and had it not been for the likes of Barry Bonds he would’ve been awarded a couple more. Albert finished second four times in MVP voting as well while with the Cardinals. And Albert wasn’t just good with the bat, he also won two Gold Gloves as a first baseman while with the Cardinals.

Albert was a complete player. Albert was a leader and a presence in the clubhouse too. Ask any player who has ever played as a teammate with Albert and they’ll quickly tell you he was a great teammate, a great leader, with a great work ethic and great character.

Albert the Philanthropist

Albert has done a lot of charity work that’s helped a lot of different people. But first, we need to mention a little bit of Albert’s personal Life. I think I’d fail in this article if I talked about Albert’s personal life and not mention his Christian faith. Albert became a Christian in 1998 after being influenced by wife Deidre and his grandmother. It’s a huge part of Albert’s life. A statement by Albert on his Foundation website pretty well sums up his beliefs and principle:

“In the Pujols family, God is first. Everything else is a distant second. My life’s goal is to bring glory to Jesus. My life is not mostly dedicated to the Lord, it is 100% committed to Jesus Christ and His will. God has given me the ability to succeed in the game of baseball. But baseball is not the end; baseball is the means by which my wife, Dee Dee, and I glorify God. Baseball is simply my platform to elevate Jesus Christ, my Lord and Savior.”

Albert married his wife Deidre on Jan 1, 2000. They have five children. One of the children, a daughter from a previous relationship of Deidre’s, was born with Down syndrome, but that wasn’t a problem with Albert.

In fact, Albert and Deidre founded the Pujols Family Foundation, a non-profit organization, which helps and aids in bringing awareness to Down syndrome. The foundation also helps and supports families with members who have Down syndrome. It also gives aid to those in need in the Dominican Republic and supports children with disabilities and/or life-threatening illnesses.

Yes, Albert Pujols has made a boatload of money playing baseball, as much as anyone in the game, but Albert isn’t selfish with it. Albert’s helping people. He has a good heart.

Enter: Controversy

It was 2011 and the St. Louis Cardinals had won the World Series, and it was one for the ages. Albert Pujols was King of St. Louis. It’s not much of a stretch to say that at that time if Albert had run for Mayor of St. Louis he’d had a good shot at winning it (although he might have had stiff competition from David Freese if he’d ran as well), he was that popular and that beloved in St. Louis and in Cardinals Nation. No other player had been so beloved in St. Louis as Albert since Stan “The Man” Musial.

But that changed.

Albert’s contract with the Cardinals had run its course at the end of that season in 2011 and Albert was now a free agent. And here’s where it gets dicey and contentious.

We now know that the Cardinals initial offer to Albert was 5 yrs/$130 million. That would’ve given Albert an AAV (average annual value) of $26 million. That’s more than significant, that’s huge money. And that’s where the rub comes in.

In an interview on a local St. Louis radio station Albert’s wife, Deidre, explained that they felt insulted by that initial offer. She said they had been told “we want you to be a Cardinal for life” at some point and then when the initial 5-year offer was presented that they then felt confused, insulted because it didn’t fit with Albert “being a Cardinal for life”.

Deidre went on to say that after all that Albert had done for and given to the community, they didn’t want to go through this again (a hint at writing off the Cardinals from that moment on maybe?). So, enter the Miami Marlins and Los Angeles Angels.

Reports on the development of contract offers and negotiations were that the Miami Marlins came in hard after Albert initially and actually made the biggest offer by any team. The deal-breaker was that Miami wouldn’t offer no-trade protection in the contract, so Albert balked.

The Cardinals came back with an offer of 10 yrs/$210 million with $30 million of it deferred, but Albert balked. It needs to be noted that the Cardinals didn’t need to include a full no-trade clause in their contract offers because Albert would already have it due to his 10 and 5 rights (10 years of major league service accrued and his last 5 consecutive years with the same team).

Late to the game came the L.A. Angels and they made an offer that opened eyes. The offer included no-trade protection and a guaranteed 10 yrs/$254 million. It also had incentive-laden aspects that could end up making the total of the contract upwards of $280 million.

And, unprecedented, the contract also included a 10-year personal services agreement that kicks in when Albert retires or fulfills his current playing contract, whichever comes latest, that could pay up to another $10 million. It was quite the offer, and Albert and Deidre agreed to accept. For the first time in his big league career, Albert Pujols would be wearing a uniform other than the one with the Birds-on-the-Bat on it.

Milestones missed in The Lou

So Albert Pujols was now a Los Angeles Angel. The people of St. Louis and Cardinals Nation, the majority anyway, were irate and feeling betrayed by Albert. “How could he?”, “he’s a traitor!”, “we thought we knew Albert, but he showed his true colors, he’s greedy, and it’s all about the money!” they cried.

It got pretty ugly. And in the same radio interview mentioned earlier, Deidre Pujols fired back at them with “well, we thought we knew who you all were too!”.

Albert is still playing for the Angels. He’s not the elite hitter he once was but he’s still producing. His batting average is 50-70 points below what he used to maintain but he’s still driving in runs, still hitting home runs at a respectable rate. And he’s still providing that good veteran leadership while doing so, his teammates in L.A. love him too. I think it’s hard to not like Albert.

Being a lifelong Cardinal fan probably the biggest regret is not being able to see Albert achieve those elite milestones in a Cardinals uniform that he’s been reaching after he went to L.A., like his 500th and 600th home runs, his 3,000th hit, etc.  Albert wouldn’t be able to reach those milestones had it not been for those 11 elite years in St. Louis. That’s where the foundation to be able to reach all those milestones was set.

But being a “baseball in general” fan as well, I watch from afar, and yes, I applaud Albert when he achieves those milestones. It always brings back a memory or three that Albert helped provide when he was doing his thing in St. Louis. We Cardinals fans will always have those, and despite any lingering anger or hurt due to Albert’s departure, we should still appreciate and treasure those great moments and memories, I know I do.

Conclusion:

Looking back, a lot has been said and the finger of blame for Albert’s departure from St. Louis has been pointed in different directions. Personally, what with Albert having turned 32 by the time the 2012 season started, I don’t think that initial 5-year offer by the Cardinals was a snub or disrespectful. That would have put Albert at 36-37 by the time that contract ended and we all see the decline now. I think it was more than fair.

Looking from the Pujols’s side of things I suppose you could see a bit of a rub if the ownership had told you we want you to be a Cardinal for life, then doesn’t offer you a contract that you think honors that.

However, most big league careers die by the time players reach their upper 30’s, so it could be said the Cardinals looked at it from that practical stance and did honor the “Cardinal for life” statement. And besides, who’s to say that after the 5 year contract was up and Albert was still putting up acceptable numbers that an extension wouldn’t have been worked out?

As for the final offer of 10 yrs/$210 million ($30 million deferred) by the Cardinals, the Pujols’s made a statement of “we’re willing to give a hometown discount” as the negotiations initially kicked in, so the Cardinals and their fans could in turn point to that offer being turned down and say “well, you didn’t honor that either”.

Look, I can’t blame Albert and family for going with the offer that provided the most money. Don’t we all leave good jobs for jobs that pay better or provide better benefits? Sure we do. It’s just that when statements get made and then the statements don’t seem to get honored feelings to get hurt, on both sides. And then the outcome that the majority wants doesn’t happen and people feel betrayed, angry. It’s unfortunate.

But in the end, baseball, while, yes, being a game, is also a business. Organizations will do what they think is the best big-picture course of action for them, and players will do the same. The fans like to look at things through nostalgic lenses, but unfortunately, baseball transactions just don’t care.

At this juncture, regardless of who most of the blame lies on regarding Albert’s departure from St. Louis to L.A., just being baseball fans in general like most of us are, I say let’s appreciate what Albert has done in baseball in general. And not just in baseball, but for what he has done, and still does, off the field as well.

Let’s appreciate these last couple years of a waning career that’s given us fans, especially us Cardinals fans, a lot of great memories and things to cheer for. Let’s not villainize a man who has helped so many people and done so many great positive things over his career, or look on his elite-level career as tarnished, because of blurry contract negotiations of the past.

I can’t help but think that Albert probably has some level of regret for not ending his storied career in St. Louis. He and Deidre still have a lot of ties to the community. In fact, they still have a home in St. Louis and spend time there in the offseason. They’re still heavily involved in the community.

So let’s appreciate one of the greatest careers ever recorded in major league baseball. They’re rare, and so are good, principled, men. And that’s what Albert Pujols is, “rare”.

 

 

 

 

 

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