I’ll have more to say and write about this breaking story tomorrow, but for now I just want to give my instant, imperfect, personal reaction to the news of Albert Pujols being released by the Los Angeles Angels.
You knew it would probably end this way. A 10-year contract, coming to a close, a 41-year-old future Hall of Famer batting .198 with faded power, sitting on the bench, smoldering inside, burning to play, his resentment festering.
Why? Because that’s how most of the greatest competitors are wired. When Bob Gibson was pulled from the Cardinals rotation 1975, his final season, he fumed over the decision. Gibson honestly believed he was still the Cards best starter. His 5.04 ERA would likely dissent. The personal characteristics that helps shapes excellence will stay, even after the physical skills are gone. And now it is Albert’s turn in the inevitable career cycle. Where the downside runs into the pride. A frustrated Pujols made it known that he wanted to play. And if the Angels didn’t want to play him, then maybe it was time to move on. The Angels released him.
What’s next? I don’t know. But all indications are that Pujols wants to keep playing, and he must have an idea of where he wants to go. We wait to see if he signals a direction.
But I want to talk about the past.
I’ve been writing and broadcasting at a major-market level since 1980, and Albert Pujols is the greatest team-sport athlete I’ve watched and covered on a daily basis. And I’ve been blessed to see many great ones up close. Baseball Hall of Famers, football Hall of Famers, hockey Hall of Famers, etc. The Great Pujols was (and is) No. 1 on my list.
Pujols was the best of the best because he combined tremendous passion, amazing baseball intellect and powerfully consistent all-around talent. He was prolific and successful as an individual. He was an incredibly valuable to the Cardinals as the foundation for two World Series championships, three NL pennants and eight postseasons during his 11 years in St. Louis.
Albert won three MVPs and all the other awards. Go ahead and count them up and understand that whatever that number comes to, he deserved to win more of trophies. He gave his name, his heart, his finances, and time to local charities and just about any initiative that helps kids. He made this an even better baseball town, and he made St. Louis a better community.
The Cardinals, their fans and St. Louis received the best seasons of Pujols’ career, and the best run of baseball for the franchise in the post-expansion era. The best run of baseball since Stan Musial and the Cardinals of the 1940s. Maybe the best run ever for the proud Cardinals.
Pujols had modern flair and old-school sensibilities. He was cutting edge, and brash, but respectful. He made history and honored history. He could have played during Rogers Hornsby’s time, or Musial’s time, and fit right in. He could have played in any generation and conquered it.
“I believe he has been reincarnated, that he played before, in the twenties and thirties, and he’s back to prove something,” his former teammate Mark McGwire said a long time ago.
For once, I don’t feel the need to give you the numbers.
With all due respect to Hornsby, when we talk about it all-time Cardinals hitters there was Stan Musial and then there was Albert Pujols. And really that’s all that we need to know.
If you were fortunate to watch the transcendent seasons of Albert Pujols, then you should smile when you think of his name, or reflect on a fond Pujols memory that is personal for you. Just know this: as long as you may live you will never see a better baseball player wearing the Birds on the Bat. His career peak as a player was our career peak as fans.
Pujols uplifted our baseball town. He left us because sometimes the business side prevails. There were hard feelings for a while, feelings that lasted. But there was a gradual softening, and the bitterness washed away. When Pujols came back with the Angels for a memorable weekend series at Busch Stadium, the occasion was as sentimental and sweet as anything I’ve ever experienced in sports. All weekend long the bouquet went back and forth. Fans to Pujos. Pujols to the fans. And brotherhood hugs from Yadier Molina.
And Pujols will come home again, in some form, to enhance the franchise and this community. It is highly unlikely that he’ll play for the Cardinals, but he is of the Cardinals, and that is eternal. No matter where he goes next, Puhols will be a Cardinal for life. We can build a statue and it will never be big enough.
“This is a great city to play. Anywhere you go, you’re going to have great fans, but not like you have here in St. Louis,” Pujols once said. “We’ve got the best fans in St. Louis.”
And in Albert Pujols, we had the best player in baseball in St. Louis for 11 glorious seasons. I don’t know if his playing career is over, but his legacy in St. Louis will live on.
Thanks for reading …
Please check out Bernie’s sports-talk show on 590-AM The Fan, KFNS. It airs Monday through Thursday from 3-6 p.m. and Friday from 4-6 p.m. You can listen live online and download the Bernie Show podcast at 590thefan.com … the 590 app works great and is available in your preferred app store.