PujolsThirdWheel

Albert Pujols’ Journey To Irrelevancy

I guess if I had to put a date on it, then August 2nd is when it happened. That's the point I knew I was over Albert Pujols. 

Mostly.
 
The former Cardinal icon and now third wheel in Anaheim had just crushed 4 home runs in 2 games against the Texas Rangers. It had been a pretty busy week and I guessed I missed SportsCenter for a few nights. 
 
I had literally no idea that Pujols had gone off on one of his patented in-season mini-rampages. The very lifeblood of this site a year ago was a footnote to a random workday, worth not even a shoulder shrug. 
 
I got no texts from friends about what a monster he was. My dad didn't mention it when we talked on the phone
 
Pujols doing Pujolsian things was a non-issue for me. Probably was for you too. We were concerned about the playoff push. About Wainwright's health. About the trade-deadline passing.
 
The 2012 playoffs, while ultimately disappointing, were filled with firsts (Wild Card play-in), lasts (strikes, twice…) and everything in between. Maybe Albert's presence in these games would have helped. Maybe it wouldn't. 
 
But fuck it, who cared? Besides some punny Sign-Guy signs at Busch Stadium, I don't think anyone really thought about the guy.
 
We broke up. Didn't want to, but it happened. Everyone moved on.
 
Cut to yesterday. Josh Hamilton, the most prized free-agent in the class of 2012 signs a 5 year/125 million dollar contract to go to the LA Angles. A pretty huge move that flew pretty beneath the radar. 
 
What was the reaction? HOLY SHIT!!! Hamilton… and MIKE TROUT!?
 
Oh, and Pujols. 
 
This initial response had me question my memory. I thought I remember Pujols finishing up pretty well in 2012. Had he really been that bad? In short – no. .285/30/105 with an OBP of .343. All numbers below his career averages. A career that we were convinced was one of the best ever through 10 years. So, you know, pretty good considering he was 0-1,000 in April and the standards he'd set were some of the best ever.
 
And while our rational selves knew that the Pujols contract was a poison pill the last few years, it was never the first three that were in question. Pujols is still in his prime. Right at this very moment he's at the age that most hitters peak. If he wanted 5 for 125, and the Cardinals didn't offer that, I'm not sure that Busch Stadium would still be standing right now.
 
What happened? How did a pretty damn good year proceeded by 10 crazy-great years relegate Pujols to being the third-wheel on a non-playoff team in 2012? A team that will have an insane offense in 2013, but might not make the playoffs without adding some pitching?
 
Simply? St. Louis.
 
We do a lot of self-edification of our fandom in this town. Some of it's justified. Most of it's BS. But the one thing we can do, unlike in football or hockey, is guide the national perception of the sport.
 
Mr. Pujols probably didn't care about that when he was negotiating his contract. But as he slowly takes in the fact that people are more interested in the new guy and the young guy something tells me he's going to start to realize what he left behind in St. Louis. Without the fervent backing of a fan base to push you to the forefront of the conversation, you become wallpaper. 
 
4 home runs in 2 nights is something we would have made a stink about. In LA, the ultimate what have you done for me lately town, it was Pujols finally living up to his contract.
 
When he left STL, I was convinced that he'd be welcomed back indifferently. 
 
He'd have to work hard to regain the trust of the region. Respect his accomplishments, hell yes. Love him like he was loved before? Not a chance. All of this taking place when we're much, much older.
 
But his star-power has been mitigated to levels we though we wouldn't see until later this decade just outside of a year from leaving. It's sad. And in a way, it's helping him in St. Louis. 
 
We see how people are reacting to this Hamilton deal and kind of feel sorry for our guy. It's almost like we wish we could do the whole thing over again… a puppy that ran away from home only to realize the food he needed was being provided right here.
 
Someday Albert Pujols will get that nourishment from St. Louis. 
 
Because the next 9 years in LA are going to help him realize what he left behind. 
 
All we can do is watch and wonder why he didn't listen to us in the first place.
 
athooks

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