Albert Pujols’ Cardinals Reunion a Reminder of a Grossly Underappreciated Career

Albert Pujols is one of the best players in MLB history. Why, then, does it feel like The Machine never gets the same acclaim as other all-time greats?

Prince Albert’s forgettable tenure with the Los Angeles Angels has somewhat stained a remarkable legacy. But that shouldn’t be the case. At his peak, Pujols dominated the sport like few people have before him. He’s destined for Cooperstown.

As the St. Louis Cardinals legend prepares for the twilight of his career, it’s time to put some respect on his name.

Albert Pujols returns to the Cardinals for his final MLB season

It’s only fitting that Pujols’ final season will occur in the same city where his legend began.

The 10-time All-Star signed a one-year contract with the Cardinals on Monday, returning to the organization that drafted him back in 1999. Shortly thereafter, he confirmed the 2022 season would be the last of his esteemed career. He won’t play every day, but fans in St. Louis should still get a nice curtain call from their hero.

Pujols has spent the past couple of seasons as a platoon hitter, and he figures to do the same for the Redbirds. The 42-year-old mashed left-handed pitching to the tune of a .939 OPS in 2021. With the implementation of the universal designated hitter (DH), Prince Albert figures to get steady at-bats against lefties throughout the 2022 season.

Whether the Cardinals can make a World Series push in Pujols’ swan song season remains to be seen. In any case, he deserves a Derek Jeter-esque sendoff as one of the game’s most iconic stars.

Pujols has one of the best resumes in MLB history

Albert Pujols is one of just 11 players to win at least three MVP Awards. He has a pair of World Series rings to his name while ranking fifth on the all-time home run list and third all-time in runs batted in (RBI).

Yet, in terms of recognition and appreciation, Pujols never seems to receive the same amount of respect and adulation as past MLB greats. Why is that?

Much of it can likely be attributed to his 10-year stint with the Angels.

Pujols ‘ career rapidly cratered after signing a 10-year, $254 million contract with the Halos in December 2011. He had just one season (2012) with an OPS over .800, though he did have a pair of 30-homer campaigns and hit 40 round-trippers in 2015, the last All-Star appearance of his career. In all, Pujols amassed just 12.8 wins above replacement (bWAR) with LA. He was valued as a mostly unproductive player in the last several years, tallying -1.9 bWAR between 2017 and 2021.

However, those numbers only illustrate The Machine’s superhuman production in his prime.

Pujols slashed .328/.420/.617 in 11 seasons with the Cardinals, totaling 445 homers and 1,329 RBI. He led the majors in total bases in four separate seasons and ranked first in park-adjusted OPS+ in 2008 and 2009.

Let’s dig a little deeper. Between 2001 (his rookie season) and 2011, Pujols led all players with 81.3 WAR, per FanGraphs (fWAR). That’s significant, because FanGraphs docks first basemen for defensive value. Despite Prince Albert winning a pair of Gold Gloves and widely being considered one of the best defensive players in baseball, he amassed a -51.0 defensive value. Yet, he still finished with the highest fWAR.

There’s more: Pujols ranked second in FanGraphs’ weighted runs created (wRC+) metric during that span, behind only Barry Bonds. Considering that includes Bonds’ record-breaking, 73-homer 2001 season — and the steroid allegations that have followed the polarizing slugger since — it’s all the more impressive what Pujols achieved. Prince Albert also amassed nearly the same fWAR as Bonds from 2001 to 2007, the final season of Bonds’ career.

Appreciate greatness while it’s still here

St. Louis Cardinals legend Albert Pujols in the batter's box during an MLB game in June 2009
Albert Pujols bats against the New York Mets during a Major League Baseball game in June 2009 | Focus on Sport/Getty Images

Now, let’s break down Albert Pujols’ career from a historical context.

The future Hall of Famer ranks 28th all-time in fWAR and 32nd in bWAR. He ranks 19th among all hitters (min. 10,000 plate appearances) with a 141 wRC+, the ninth-highest mark among right-handed hitters. Again, that’s all the more remarkable, considering he had a wRC+ of 90 or worse (often far worse) in his final five seasons with the Angels.

None of that accounts for Pujols’ October heroism. The Machine has a career postseason slash line of .321/.426/.581. His 19 postseason homers rank fifth all-time. Many of them are iconic, such as the three-run moonshot off Brad Lidge in Game 5 of the 2005 NLCS and his three-homer, six-RBI night in Game 3 of the 2011 World Series.

Pujols performed at the very highest level for a decade-plus. He’s one of the defining players of a generation and among the greatest hitters ever to step foot in the batter’s box.

Hopefully, baseball fans will show Prince Albert the appreciation he deserves before he rides into the sunset.

Stats courtesy of Baseball Reference and FanGraphs.

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