ST. LOUIS — I’m guessing there are about as many St. Louisans who feel sorry for Albert Pujols as there are New Yorkers who sympathize with Alex Rodriguez.
My empathy for A-Rod is nonexistent, but I do feel sorry for Pujols. That is, as sorry as one can feel for someone making $240 million.
While Pujols and his new team have struggled since he landed in California last year, the Cardinals have emerged as strong as ever. They certainly are in a better place than they would have been if Pujols had not turned down their $200 million-plus.
Still, while much of St. Louis tuning into the Cardinals’ series at Los Angeles this week will be hissing at their TVs when Pujols enters the picture, I will be hoping he doesn’t go 0 for 4.
An 0-fer by Pujols, of course, wouldn’t be anything he’s not used to these days. He enters the series 4 for his past 34, with his batting average down to a Pete Kozma-like .249. The Angels believe Pujols’ struggles are due mostly to feet and knee ailments that have turned him into a gimpy DH and sapped his power.
“His production has been definitely influenced by what’s going on with his body,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia told mlb.com last weekend. “Is he the same player of three, four, five years ago? He’s not in that neighborhood right now, but he’s still tremendously effective.”
Uh, tremendously effective might be a reach. Thirteen homers and 49 RBI at the halfway point hardly are tremendous by Pujols’ standards. And a .752 OPS that ranks 47th in the A.L. barely is effective.
Scioscia needs to check Pujols’ numbers in St. Louis to see what “tremendously effective” really is.
Pujols, now 33, didn’t win a Triple Crown in any one season with St. Louis, but he claimed the N.L. Triple Crown for an entire decade. From 2000-09, he led the N.L. in homers (336), RBI (1,112) and batting average (.334) even though he didn’t play his first game until 2001.
Pujols also put up single-season numbers as impressive as those turned in by Miguel Cabrera’s historic 2012. In 2006, Pujols hit .331 with 49 homers and 137 RBI; Cabrera went .330/44/139 to win his Triple Crown.
As celebrated as Pujols was in St. Louis, whenever I look at his numbers, I think he might have been underappreciated. He won three MVPs and should have had at least five. He led the Cardinals to seven postseason appearances, three World Series and two championships. His impact off the field was just as great if not greater, considering the work his foundation did (and is still doing).
I also believe that Pujols’ decline over these past few years has been due partly to his team-first approach in St. Louis. For a guy who is one day younger than Matt Holliday, he sure seems older than 33. We don’t know how often Pujols played with an injury with the Cardinals, but we do know that each of the three times he went on the disabled list, he returned well ahead of schedule. Don’t forget, he played an entire season knowing his right elbow could blow with one wrong throw.
One of the memories I carry of Pujols’ time with the Cardinals is from late June 2011 after he broke his left wrist making a play at first. A few days after the injury, I asked him whether he would attend the All-Star Game if named to the N.L. team even though he wouldn’t be able to play.
His answer: Who says I won’t be back by the All-Star break?
Well, I said, you’re supposed to be out as long as six weeks.
Sure enough, he was right. Pujols returned in 17 days and played in five more games before the break, then hit .319 with 19 homers and 49 RBI in the second half.
So, yes, knowing what Pujols did for the Cardinals and St. Louis, I would rather not see him looking old and washed up, especially against his former team. You can follow Stan McNeal on Twitter at @stanmcneal or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.