In 2011, the St. Louis Cardinals beat the Texas Rangers in the most thrilling World Series of the century thus far. In Game 3, Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols joined Babe Ruth and Reggie Jackson as the only players to hit three home runs in a World Series game, although Pablo Sandoval accomplished the same feat for the San Francisco Giants in 2012. In Game 6, the Cardinals were facing elimination and were down to their last strike on two separate occasions before battling back and eventually winning. St. Louis took Game 7, and Pujols had won his second World Series title with the Cardinals. He had been drafted by the Cardinals, gone up through their minor league system, dominated on a consistent basis, and now he had won multiple championships, all for the same organization. However, Albert Pujols tarnished his legacy by putting money over loyalty, and his reputation has changed immensely in the last few years.
Pujols hit the free agent market after the 2011 season, and the offers were outrageous. Most fans believed he would end back up with the Cardinals, but St. Louis did not offer him his asking price, and he signed a 10-year/$254 million contract with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. The baseball populous, especially Cardinal Nation, reacted rather negatively to Pujols’ signing; he was called greedy, selfish, and his reputation of loyalty went down the drain. It was clear Albert Pujols had tarnished his legacy. He had a good first season in the American League, but nowhere close to the numbers that he put up in St. Louis. He posted a 138 OPS+, a statistic that compares a player to the league average in terms of on-base and slugging percentage, which was far below his 170 OPS+ during his tenure with the Cardinals. This signifies that Albert was 38 percent better than league average in 2012 and 70 percent better when he was a Cardinal. Still, Pujols had a good enough season to receive No. 17 in the AL MVP voting.
In 2013, Pujols had the worst season of his career. He only played in 99 games due to plantar fasciitis, which also limited him to only 34 games at first base. The two-time Gold Glove winner had resigned to being a designated hitter, and he did not even hit very well. Albert posted a 1.5 Wins Above Replacement, proving he was no better than an average player. In the span of two years, Pujols went from a World Series superstar to an average player on a below-.500 team. By himself, Albert earned the Cardinals an average of 58.5 runs per season from 2001-2011, but in 2013, he earned one run fewer than average for the Angels. Needless to say, Prince Albert disappointed the masses in 2013, and while he claims to be healthy going into 2014, there is reason to doubt that he will ever be near the caliber of player he was during the prime of his career. While Albert was a model of consistency for so many years, his recent unproductivity has greatly depleted his value, and it will not be long until the Angels begin to regret his contract.
Nevertheless, Albert is only 34-years-old, and the baseball community should not be quick to write him off. In the first month of the 2014 season, Pujols has looked like an emblem of his old self. In 25 games, Pujols has a .282/.351/.602 slash line (batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage) while hitting nine home runs and driving in 22 runs. Still, Albert is leaps-and-bounds away from the .328/.420/.617 line he was able to post over his 11 years in St. Louis, but it is good to see Pujols playing like his old self. On April 22, Albert hit career home runs No. 499 and 500 in the same game, but something just felt wrong about watching him circle without wearing a Cardinals jersey. Albert Pujols sold out and tarnished his legacy in the process, but if he can post a few more solid seasons, there is a possibility he could revive his reputation.
Commentary by Jough Brasch