Albert Pujols' Career in Retrospect
So, it's been too long since the last THN entry and this due to a few reasons. One: living in Huntsville, Alabama, our city was without power for a full week so I and my family "fled" to St. Louis to stay with family. We also had a vacation planned and now I'm currently out in Colorado traveling for work, so things have been fairly hectic.
I don't have time to touch on the Cardinals' sweep at the hand of the Reds, nor our sweep of the Phillies last night, but I finally had a second to reflect on Albert this morning, so here we go. Today's entry is mostly for me (aren't they all?! - ha ha. Shuddup). But, my therapist said it would help in the grieving process so, bear with me.
I want to thank Albert Pujols for so many things that I've witnessed and experienced as a baseball fan and lifelong Cardinal fan.
His incredible rookie season, arguably the greatest ever.
Ten years of Hall of Fame, "spoil us" production.
A Decade Triple Crown (the 2000s and done in only nine years, mind you).
A batting title, a home run title, an RBI title and three MVP awards.
And now that it seems a page has turned in Albert's career it's suddenly becoming much more clear what a once-in-a-lifetime athletic performance we've witnessed. What do they say? It's a blessing to get old and see how far one has come, what challenges have been overcome, and what new possibilities lie ahead?
One distinct memory of mine: In 2001 when Pujols burst onto the scene, I was mesmerized by his hitting prowess, but the thing that excited me the most was how seldom the dude struck out. After watching whiff-machines like Ray Lankford, Ron Gant, Jack Clark, Mark Whiten, and Jim Edmonds over the years, this Pujols kid was definitely different. Maybe even once-in-a-lifetime different. He struck out "just" 93 times with 30-homer power that year and that was his worst K-year. For his career he's averaged 42 home runs per year against just 67 strikeouts a year. Simply unreal.
So with bittersweet feelings I have to admit that Albert reminds me of another great hitting first baseman that suddenly got old: Todd Helton.
Helton was a stellar producer with seven years of Hall-of-Fame production and then since 2005 he's hit 20+ homers just once in the last seven. I never gave Helton enough credit because he had inflated numbers in Denver, but he WAS always a good hitter no matter where he played. And he was never suspected of juicing and the path of his career sure seems to support that. And Helton, despite being overpaid, once his slide began, never gave up. He's continued to be a .300 hitter who can pop 10-15 homers and be a contributor. Just a class act.
And Albert should work on doing the same thing. He physically cannot be "the man" anymore and he needs to embrace it - not sulk about it.
And ten years after the steroid era, fans, writers and experts really see now that 'roids really didn't make players better than their talent level - but they certainly helped guys play at a high level much longer than what is naturally possible.
Albert may be older than we think, but he's not juicer. Just like Helton was not. So I applaud them for aging gracefully and with dignity, without cheating.
And I must also thank Albert for having such high expectations of himself, such pride in his game, that he didn't accept a huge contract from the Cardinals, even though there's no way he could physically live up to it.
And while my original fear was that he would only be good for two or three years out of the 8 or 9 year deal, now it seems far more prudent for the Cards to either sign him to about $15 mill a year or let him walk, thereby preventing the team I love from being crippled by an albatross contract and sub-par production from a power position like first base.
And that's not how I want to remember "El Hombre".
So it's pretty cool to sit back and see just how incredibly good Pujols was. Probably the best right-handed hitter in history his first ten years. In reality, Albert produced his numbers in a time of depressed offense across baseball, playing in very fair offensive ballparks his entire career that have even shaded toward being pitcher-friendly. And despite his obvious all-world talent, Albert always wanted to win, never coasting, never accepting less than his best, always willing to give whatever his team needed to help get a win.
In retrospect we see that his three MVP awards don't even begin to do him justice as to how much better he was than ever other player. In a sport where one MVP award in a career gets you some HOF consideration, Albert could have had five or six MVPs, easily.
That's Michael Jordan dominating the NBA good. That's Wayne Gretzky skating circles around everyone good.
So, I honestly hope Albert finishes his career as a Cardinal with dignity and we can all savor his legacy along with him as he enters the latter part of his career.