There was confusion on social media Monday night, with Deidre Pujols posting a loving, heartfelt message in tribute to her husband, Albert Pujols.
“Today is the first day of the last season of one of the most remarkable careers in sports!” Deidre Pujols wrote, in part, on Monday. “I’m talking about my husband, Albert Pujols, who since the time he was a child would eat, sleep and breath this sport. I have had the privilege to walk out 23 years of this baseball journey and it is with such a full heart that I speak a blessing over him as he finishes this good race!”
This sure seemed like a retirement announcement in advance of Pujols’ final year as one of the most prestigious hitters in MLB history. He would play out the 2021 season, do his best to help his team make the playoffs, and complete his 10-year, $240 million contract with the Los Angeles Angels. And that would be it, right? Next stop: Cooperstown.
As the commotion set in, Diedre adjusted, edited and offered clarity: “THIS IS NOT AN OFFICIAL STATEMENT OF PUJOLS RETIREMENT. I’M JUST TRYING TO SEND MY HUSBAND WITH BLESSINGS INTO 2021 SEASON!!”
Pujols says he hasn’t made a decision on his future beyond the 2021 campaign. That’s to be determined. “Nothing has changed what we talked about last week,” Albert told ESPN’s Enrique Rojas. “I will make a decision about the future, depending on what happens this season.”
Deidre was spot on in describing Albert’s career as “one of the most remarkable” in sports.
Through 19 seasons, the first 11 in St. Louis, Pujols ranks 3rd in MLB history in career RBIs, 5th in homers, 5th in doubles, 5th in extra-base hits, fifth in total bases, 15th in hits and 16th in runs.
That plus three National League MVP awards, six silver sluggers, two gold gloves, 10 All-Star games, the 2001 Rookie of the Year honor, four NL pennants, two World Series titles.
In his 11 years with the Cardinals Pujols not only won three league MVP awards — but he finished second four times, and third another time. Pujols finished no worse than fifth in the league MVP voting in 10 of his 11 seasons as a Cardinal.
With Pujols as their most precious gemstone, the Cardinals competed in seven postseasons covering 74 games (and 48 wins.) Pujols’ postseason batting average was .330. He slugged .607, got on base at a rate of 44 percent, smashed 18 homers and 18 doubles, and drove in 52 runs.
Other than the Yankees’ Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada no MLB player appeared in more postseason games (and wins) than Pujols from 2001 through 2011.
In Cardinals franchise history Pujols ranks 2nd to Stan Musial in homers, RBIs, doubles, extra base hits and total bases. He’s third to Musial and Lou Brock in runs scored. And among hitters that had at least 3,000 plate appearances as a Cardinal, Pujols is first in slugging percentage, fourth in onbase percentage and fifth in batting average.
To no one’s surprise, Pujols wasn’t able to replicate the St. Louis performance with Anaheim. He had a strong first season (2012), clubbing 30 homers, knocking in 105 runs and posting a 138 OPS+. (That’s 38% above the league average.)
Pujols walloped 40 homers in 2015; that was also his only All-Star season as an Angel. He’s also reached 100 RBIs in a season three times since joining the Angels.
Pujols absolutely had his share of brilliant highlights and glowing memories with his second team… especially as he proudly marched his way past 500 homers, 600 homers, 3,000 hits, 2,000 RBIs.
Pujols has made it to only one postseason (2014) as an Angel. He went 2 for 12 with a homer as the Halos were swept out of the division round by Kansas City.
Pujols’ first five seasons in Orange County weren’t up to the STL level but he had nothing to apologize for. The five seasons (2012-16) generated a 123 OPS+, .474 slugging percentage, a .799 OPS, and an average of 29 homers and 98 RBIs.
But over the past four seasons the inevitable impact of aging has slowly extracted the muscle from Pujols’ offense. Since the beginning of the 2017 season he’s batted .242 with a .291 OBP and .406 slug. His 87 OPS+ over that time was 13 percent below league average.
Pujols played in 39 games during the truncated 2020 season and delivered a discouraging slash line of .224/.270/.395 with six homers and 25 RBIs.
Over his last four seasons Pujols came in below the replacement-player level at minus 0.7 bWAR. The Angels paid Pujols a total of $110 million — an average of $27.5 million — spanning the four years. And they’ll pay him $30 million in 2021. Or to put it another way: by the end of the 2021 season the Angels will have invested $140 million in Pujols during five seasons of extreme decline.
In the11 seasons as a Cardinal, Pujols amassed 86.6 bWAR, which ranks third in franchise history behind Musial and Rogers Hornsby.
After his first nine seasons as an Angel, Pujols has only 14.1 bWAR.
This is Pujols’ age-41 season.. Unless there’s a shocking revival offensively, it’s difficult to comprehend a good reason for Albert to return to play in 2022.
Cardinals fans with sentimental notions have suggested having Pujols finish where he started by playing a farewell 2022 season in St. Louis. Some have even mentioned the possibility of trading for Pujols at some point this season, to reunite the player and the team and reconnect their forever-special relationship.
These are pleasant but unrealistic thoughts. There is no DH in the National League. That could change (suddenly) before the start of the season, and we’ll probably see the players and owners agree to a universal DH for 2022.
That said, Pujols hasn’t created much offense in the DH role over the past several years. In 985 plate appearances as a DH for the Angels from 2017 through ‘20, Pujols batted .237 with a .284 OBP, .398 slug and .682 OPS. This translates to 20 percent below the league average offensively.
The Angels are improved. Pujols has a shot at making the playoffs this season, and he’ll be fired up to join the likes of Mike Trout, Anthony Rendon, Justin Upton, Shohei Ohtani, Jose Iglesias, Dexter Fowler, Dylan Bundy, Andrew Heaney, Jose Quintana, Alex Cobb and Raisel Iglesias in the postseason pursuit.
As a fan, I just want Pujols to do what makes him happy. I’ve never covered a more consistently amazing and accomplished team-sports athlete during my extensive time here in St. Louis. And I can’t imagine another athlete coming close to matching Pujols’ decade-plus excellence as a Cardinal.
Thanks for reading …
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For the last 35 years Bernie Miklasz has entertained, enlightened, and connected with generations of St. Louis sports fans.
While best known for his voice as the lead sports columnist at the Post-Dispatch for 26 years, Bernie has also written for The Athletic, Dallas Morning News and Baltimore News American. Bernie has hosted radio shows in St. Louis, Dallas, Baltimore and Washington D.C.
Bernie, his wife Kirsten and their cats reside in the Skinker-DeBaliviere neighborhood of St. Louis.