It feels like Albert Pujols has received more attention this season than he did during his entire stint with the Angels. He was named an All-Star for the first time since 2015 under MLB’s new special selection designation. The Cardinals let him pitch during the ninth inning of a blowout. His peers advocated for a retirement tour with all the kitsch you can stomach, which he’s now getting. Nelly helped him celebrate a home run this week. And now he’s going to participate in the home run derby.
At this point, the only thing to do about Pujols’ elongated goodbye is just accept it.
I know it was hard to maintain the level of notoriety he had in St. Louis when he was in a lineup with Mike Trout, but it sure feels like he missed being relevant. If the Angels were ever any good, there would be plenty of kind words to spread around. That’s never the case — as Mike Trout, Shohei Ohtani, and Pujols can attest to — and I don’t blame the Hall of Famer for wanting to take one last nap in the sunlight. I’d be rejuvenated too if I spent the past decade as a rusting attraction at Disneyland.
That said, St. Louis going with a washed-up legend in the first year that it can employ a dedicated bat is working out about as well as they could’ve hoped. He’s hitting .220, with 20 RBI, and six homers. His .695 OPS doesn’t crack the top 100, but he also doesn’t average enough plate appearances to show up on ESPN’s league leaders’ list. It’s great that Pujols is mentoring rookie/part-time DH Juan Yepez, who has five more home runs and seven more RBI than his sensei in 70 more at-bats.
The issue is the offense is buoyed by its two (legit) All-Stars and could use some consistent production, ideally from the position specifically created to boost scoring. If you merge the Cardinals’ two primary DHs, their combined production is essentially 66 percent of Paul Goldschmidt or Nolan Arenado — not Goldschmidt and Arenado, Goldschmidt or Arenado. Of St. Louis’ 394 RBI, the two sluggers have 123 of them. This team feels destined to succumb to the same flaws that killed it the past few years.
I’m sure I could find the player with the least amount of dingers at the All-Star break to compete in a home run derby, but that stat is off with Shaq’s career 3-point percentage (.045) on the island of forgotten/depressing numbers. However, if Pujols’ six homers aren’t the lowest, it’s gotta be close.
We’ve reached the existential juncture of this piece where I ask what is happening? In what universe is Albert showing his warning track power during a national showcase a good idea? He knows this isn’t an old timers softball game, right? (Or the rebirth of MTV’s Rock N’ Jock).
There’s a reason why Vince Carter said there was “no chance” he would participate in the 2020 dunk contest. While it’s still impressive he could elevate at 40-plus years old, it inspires vastly less awe when done next to a 19-year-old with bunnies uninhibited by age. There was a time when Albert didn’t need a leg kick to generate power, turning on fastballs with stoicism about him. Now he needs every bit of that lift to scrape balls over the left field fence.
Dunking and hitting moon shots aren’t the same thing, so it’s possible announcers will be filling Pujols’ turn with yelps of disbelief. Be that as it may, the odds are heavily in favor of those oohs and aahs instead being cringes and Karl Ravech and Co. losing interest as opposed to their shit.
Before a bunch of St. Louis fans get even more irate at me, screaming obscenities and things like, “This isn’t for you” and “You don’t have to watch,” let me stop you. I’m a Cards fan. I may or may not have shed a tear when he opted to go to the Angels. This is specifically for me, and still I’d rather him just take an AB during the All-Star game, get an ovation, and go back to the dugout.
He’s earned the right to participate in the All-Star festivities of his choice. It’s just… the team is two games back in the NL Central, two-and-a-half out of the last wild card spot, with a banged-up rotation, and looking like it might need another second-half rally to make the postseason. They’re 23-30 against teams above .500, have won two series in the past month, and just blew a 6-0 lead to the Dodgers over the final three innings.
If it didn’t feel like Pujols’ farewell tour was going to be the highlight of the season, it’d be a lot easier to enjoy.