Albert Pujols Gives the Cardinals What they Need

photo: Albert Pujols (St. Louis Cardinals)

At 42 years of age and in his final season as an active player, Albert Pujols returned home to St. Louis and is contributing to the 2022 Cardinals in many ways, on the field and off.

Prince Albert was St. Louis Cardinals royalty in late 2011 when he walked away to the Los Angeles Angels on a 10-year deal. From this fan’s perspective, Albert Pujols left for the almighty dollar and cost himself the opportunity to possibly surpass Stan Musial as the greatest ever to wear The Birds on The Bat. Selected with the 402nd pick of the 1999 draft, Pujols was not expected by anyone to become a baseball icon – a sure-fire Hall of Famer. No one expected him to be one of the best all-time hitters, yet he has done all this and more. In his final hurrah, he is delivering the intangibles that the 2022 St. Louis Cardinals need.

Leadership and experience can never be overlooked. It did not work out with Matt Carpenter last season, but Carpenter is not Albert Pujols. “The Machine” may no longer strike the same fear into the hearts of pitchers that he once did but he knows about winning, especially in St. Louis. Number 5 has delivered time and again both on and off the diamond.  Now in perhaps his greatest role, he has a chance along with Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright (the last remaining active members of the 2006 and 2011 World Series champions) to bring one more title to the city and help develop another generation of Cardinals’ winners.

Adam Wainwright, Albert Pujols, Yadier Molina (St. Louis Cardinals)

Many wondered if Pujols could be content with a lesser playing role in his final season. Through over six dozen games, Albert clearly understands and accepts his role. He did not come to St. Louis expecting to contribute on an everyday basis – though if he could, it would be exciting. His time with the Los Angeles Dodgers told him though that he still wanted baseball. In fact, he wanted it so much that he played in the Dominican Winter League for the first time in 2021. In an interview with La Vida, he explained what still drives him day in and day out.

“At the professional level, I have achieved everything: a World Series ring, MVP, all that. But one thing is your passion, the passion you’ve had for baseball ever since you were a kid. You start to think about your childhood, what you sacrificed, what you’ve fought for, and that’s what still attracts me – the passion that I have.”

Add Cincinnati Reds first baseman Joey Votto’s analysis of Pujols and you see why Cardinals president of baseball operations John Mozeliak wanted Pujols back. You understand why the signing in St. Louis is paying off.

“He’s so greedy,” Votto said. “He always wants more. I love that about him. He was just always on the attack, never satisfied and always looking for the next big moment. He just has greed. I love it. It’s a trait that is very underrated. Very, very underrated in our sport. To have the fortitude to be able to have a good game but want a great game and then have a great game but want a perfect game,” Votto added. “I just don’t think it’s a habit that a lot of guys have.”

Albert Pujols

When Pujols re-signed after 11 years away, it wasn’t for nostalgia or feel-good accolades. It was because the Cardinals needed a right-handed bat off the bench and one of the best ever to step in a batter’s box was available. Last season in Los Angeles, Pujols proved that in the right moment he can still be clutch. That’s why St. Louis signed him. This season he is delivering exactly what they thought he would. Against lefties, he is hitting .317 (13-for-41) including five extra base hits and nine RBI. No, he hasn’t produced against righties, but he comes to the plate when asked and gives his all..

On April 17th, Pujols crushed a three-run home run against the Brewers to erase a three-run lead. On Sunday, June 12th, he delivered an RBI double that tied the game at four. Coincidentally, both games ended in 7-6 losses but Albert proved that he can still be Albert.

With a 2022 team of young and potentially great batters, Pujols is the perfect voice in the clubhouse, in the dugout and on the field. Who better then a three-time MVP, a nine-time All-Star and a winner of six Silver Slugger Awards to be a voice in the ear of young stars in the making. Los Angeles Angels star Mike Trout had this to say about Pujols presence.

“He mentored me throughout my career so far,” Trout said. ”Everything you can accomplish on a baseball field, he’s done. I can go up to him and talk about anything. If I was struggling at the plate, he knows the perfect time to come up and throw something out. He has that feel. I can’t thank him enough. He was an unbelievable person and unbelievable friend to me.”

Don’t just take Trout’s word for it. How about Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner?

“Since Day 1, he’s had a huge impact on all of us in there,” said Turner. “Just his leadership, his experience, work ethic. And the way he goes about his business, he sets an example for everyone. I’ve said it probably 100 times, when you see him at the end of the dugout after a guy hits a homer, it’s almost like he’s more happy than the guy that hit the homer, just waiting to give you a big hug. He’s been great for everyone, and he just brings so much to this team.”

That is Albert Pujols and that is why St. Louis wanted him back. His signing for $2.5 million could easily be the steal of the season.

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