Opponents of the St. Louis Cardinals better get their rocking chairs and kitsch retirement gifts ready because another act had been added to the team’s retirement tour. Former lead singer/first baseman and current designated hitter Albert Pujols is rejoining the Red Birds for what he says is his “last run.”
With Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright likely in their final seasons as well, things are going to get misty for Cardinals fans — and annoyingly redundant for the rest of baseball lovers. Part of me — the Cardinals fan portion who thinks St. Louis would have another title and Pujols wouldn’t have fallen off so fast had he stayed — is elated by the reunion and warmed by stories like Pujols rousing Wainwright from a nap his first day back in the clubhouse.
The other part of me — the much more powerful Dark Side whose reaction to all sports retirement tours is to dry heave and choke on stomach bile — is still jaded from Pujols leaving and cynical about his motives for returning.
What went on/what’s currently going on with Coach K and Duke is like if Kobe Bryant’s last season and Dwyane Wade’s retirement documentary had a baby, and Shaun White’s final Olympics and Jim Nantz’s sentimental cooing had a baby, and then those two babies had a baby. It’s a display of ego that’s overshadowing the tournament and cloying in the worst possible way.
I understand retirement ceremonies are for the fans as it gives them a chance to say goodbye, but Tim Duncan announcing his retirement during the offseason and eschewing the fanfare was beautiful and graceful in its discretion. It’s not like anyone is dying. Save the flowers for the funeral.
As soon as Pujols returned to St. Louis, he was inevitably going to get questions about the end of his career with Molina and Wainwright at the end of theirs, so he was probably just being honest. Also, the second half of his career went so poorly that this parade won’t be on par with Coach K or Kobe. He’s definitely a great enough player to deserve the sendoff Cardinals’ fans are going to give him, but fair warning to baseball fans in general: Every nationally televised St. Louis game will feature a segment about the end of an era and how great it is that baseball added the DH to the NL thus allowing Pujols to return and retire as a Cardinal.
He needs 21 homers to reach 700 for his career, and if he could do that, it’d be a great story and go a long way in helping this team make a run at one more World Series — something they’re apparently delusional enough to think they can do.
Pujols hit .236 with 17 home runs in 109 games last year and showed he can still hit lefties, slugging .603 against them, so it’s conceivable he could hit the milestone only three other players have reached.
If asked to bet on the more likely outcome: A World Series or 700 home runs? Pujols sitting at 699 and flailing at breaking balls with the Cardinals eight games behind the Brewers for the Central in September is much more likely than any kind of throwback juggernaut pipe dream.
Staff ace Jack Flaherty won’t be ready for opening day and neither will reliever Alex Reyes, who is out even longer. The team needed a historic run to make the postseason a year ago, and then fired the manager who orchestrated it.
Rarely are players good enough to round the bases into the sunset, and Pujols’ recent form doesn’t suggest he’ll be any different. Honestly, Molina and Wainwright are more important to St. Louis at this stage in their careers, and it’s not even close. (Even as seemingly ageless as those two are, it’s a pretty sad indictment of the current roster.)
It’s cool that Pujols is back in the Birds on Bats and will get a last hurrah in front of the fans and with the team and teammates he won two titles with. Hopefully, the histrionics will be kept at a minimum, but we can all collectively say, “Yeah fucking right.”
Retirement theatrics are for the birds.