Albert Pujols took a hanging breaking pitch from Washington Nationals pitcher Taylor Jordan and blasted a towering moonshot blast into the left-center bleachers for career home run No. 500. With one giant swing of the bat, he joined 25 other players who have reached that milestone. It was a momentous occasion, but it was also a moment that should have come as a member of the St. Louis Cardinals. Instead, a scarred image of Pujols has left some Cardinals fans wondering what could have been.
Albert Pujols was beloved throughout St. Louis and by the Cardinal faithful during his eleven seasons as a redbird. He made his MLB debut on April 2, 2001 as a 21-year-old slugger from the Dominican Republic, going 1-3 in his first game in the big leagues. It did not take long for Pujols to make a name for himself, as he quickly became one of the most feared hitters in baseball, finishing the season batting .329, blasting 37 home runs, and driving in 130 runs. He was named the NL Rookie of the Year, and immediately became the face of the Cardinals franchise.
As a member of the Cardinals, Pujols was and continues to be involved with charities throughout the St. Louis area, including The Pujols Family Foundation—an organization that focuses on helping children with Down syndrome. It’s an admirable cause and for that he should be praised, but as a baseball player, the huge money grab that sent him to the Anaheim Angels in 2012 is something that will leave a scarred image in the minds of many Cardinals fans.
Pujols signed a 10-year, $254 million contract with the Anaheim Angels on December 8, 2011 after failing to reach an agreement with the Cardinals, who were offering nearly $200 million for nine years. With one swoop of the pen, and his signature on the dotted line, the money grab was on and the legacy of the Cardinal slugger was tarnished. Pujols was in line to become one of the all-time great players in Cardinals history, solidifying his legacy amongst players like Rogers Hornsby, Lou Brock, Bob Gibson, Stan Musial, and Ozzie Smith. His legacy as a Cardinal once appeared to be as cemented as the statue of Stan Musial that graces the front gates of Busch Stadium. The legacy is lost, or at the very least tarnished, and Pujols becomes just another great player in the history of the St. Louis Cardinals.
If there is any question as to the loss of legacy surrounding Albert Pujols and his status as one of the all-time most loved Cardinal players, look no further than Busch Stadium. Even the souvenir stands that line the corridor and feature memorabilia from past and present Cardinal players seems to have forgotten about Pujols. Occasionally, autographed items are found, and plaques bearing his name can be found at discounted prices, but for the most part, it is as if he was a minor blip on the redbird radar.
Money talks, no doubt about it, and it’s difficult to blame someone for wanting to secure an additional $50 million dollars for himself and his family, but for once it would be nice to see a player strive to obtain things like loyalty and legacy over the almighty dollar. Albert Pujols had the chance at becoming one of the greatest ball players in one of baseball’s most historic cities, yet he turned his back and left a scarred image. Meanwhile, he left Cardinal fans with mixed emotions—some cherish him for a great career in St. Louis, while others label him as a traitor.
On the day following home run No. 500, it is easy to recognize the amazing milestone, but at the same time it is somewhat disappointing that this moment could not be shared with the fans of St. Louis—some of the most knowledgeable and loyal fans in all of baseball.
Commentary by Johnny Caito