By Shane Gravlin
Two decades ago in the year I was born, 2001, a player from the Dominican Republic debuted and took Major League Baseball by storm. His name was Albert Pujols. The raw power combined with the brilliant discipline were on display instantly, and he was awarded the Rookie of the Year title.
For a decade Pujols was the face of baseball. From 2001 through 2011, there wasn’t a bigger superstar in all of MLB. Then, the Los Angeles Angels lured him to the West Coast through free agency in the offseason after the 2011 season, when the Cardinals won the World Series, of course. The price tag? $240 million. Has it paid off for the Angels logistically, or Pujols personally? No.
Pujols has enjoyed little of the individual success that he did while in St. Louis, and the Angels have only qualified for the postseason one time since the acquisition, and got swept in the divisional round. It’s hard to believe that Pujols has already played nine years in Anaheim, but maybe it’s because his time there just hasn’t been memorable. He made the all-star team once in 2015– an accolade that he achieved eight times while in St. Louis. Not to mention the three Most Valuable Player crowns. And two World Series rings.
An important component is his age. After the 2011 season, when Pujols entered free agency, he was 31 years old. To take on such a lengthy contract for a player who was already starting to exit his prime years didn’t make much sense. Now he’s 41 years old, and the production has fallen rather sharply. The Angels are still lost as a team, and the Pujols experiment has been a two hundred million dollar + failure. He hasn’t been an everyday player since 2017.
Albert Pujols is set to become an unrestricted free agent following this upcoming 2021 season, but his wife recently said in an Instagram post that this would be his final season, and with his age it’s hard to imagine him playing much longer.
But, there’s an opportunity for a perfect Hollywood ending, not in LA, but in St. Louis. The Cardinals should negotiate a deal to bring back their former slugger. He wouldn’t be a starter, he might not even hit twenty home runs, but a move to his original squad could prove to be rejuvenating. Or maybe he struggles, but it’d still be the ending to the career he deserved, with fans in Busch Stadium (hopefully) cheering him on as the Cardinals play in a win or go home playoff game and he comes in to pinch hit.
I’m getting ahead of myself, but I just don’t want Albert’s career to fade away. Especially if the Angels aren’t decent. He chose Los Angeles, but it still feels like he deserves better. Fans in the city of Angels truly wouldn’t miss him, not a knock against them, there just haven’t been many heroic moments for him in California. Plus, the Angels have the modern face of the MLB in Mike Trout who’s overshadowed Pujols from the get go, understandably so, as Trout has been one of the most consistent and talented players in baseball since 2012, while Pujols’ abilities have gradually tapered off since that exact time.
One drawback is that the reunion would be costly. Even if the Cardinals sent a current MLB player to the Angels plus another prospect perhaps and dumped some salary, the Cardinals would still incur a high cost to pay him for just one or half of a season, as Pujols is still owed $30 million for the 2021 season.
Cardinals Nation would welcome him back with open arms, though. Just as they did when he returned to play at Busch Stadium back in 2019 and they gave him a standing ovation in literally every single at bat of the series. Yadi gave him a hug at the plate, it was emotional. When he hit a homerun for the Angels, Busch Stadium erupted like it was 2009 and he was still wearing the Birds on the Bat on his jersey. It wouldn’t all be ceremonial, he’d still hit a good couple of towering bombs and come through with a clutch late hit at times. The Cardinals have already made other moves this offseason, a Pujols homecoming would make sense for him and for the Cardinals, and would make a lot of Cardinals fans very sentimental and excited.
Edited by Emma Moloney