It’s hard to believe that Albert Pujols has not been a member of the St. Louis Cardinals organization since late 2011. It’s even harder to believe that Pujols, one of the greatest hitters in the history of baseball and the face of the franchise for over a decade, will never be a part of a St. Louis Cardinals World Championship ever again. The pain still lingers in the hearts of Cardinal fans around the world for his decision to leave the team, but we should never forget what he did for the organization.
Somehow, Pujols was not drafted until the 13th round of the 1996 MLB draft. When he broke into the league as a twenty-one year old rookie in 2001, I was an eleven-year-old boy just starting to fall in love with baseball. Pujols went on to have the greatest rookie season for any player this generation. For the next decade, Pujols built a legacy in St. Louis that included two World Series Championships, three national league MVP’s, and nine all-star game appearances – not bad for a guy who was considered too slow and overweight to ever make it in the big leagues.
Widely considered the best baseball city in America, it’s not easy to be mentioned as one of the franchise’s all time greats in St. Louis. Stan Musial, Ozzie Smith, and Bob Gibson are just a few of the legends that have wore the Cardinal red over the years. Pujols not only deserves to be mentioned with these greats – arguably, he deserves to be acknowledged as the greatest Cardinal of all time.
I can remember seeing Pujols for the first time at Fenway Park in 2003. Late in that game, Pujols hit a rocket off Pedro Martinez on a 3-0 fastball into the right field bullpen. The Red Sox fans around me were wondering who this Pujols kid was, but not me, I was well aware. A few years later (2005), the Cardinals were one out away from their season ending in bitter disappointment to the Houston Astros in the NLCS. Brad Lidge, the most dominant closer in the game at the time, was on the mound, and the baseball world was all but crowning the Astros NL champs already. What happened next may always be the most exciting moment I will ever experience as a baseball fan, when Pujols took the nasty lidge slider and sent it deep into left field over the railroad tracks in Houston (I’m still not sure the ball ever landed). From that day on, nobody ever questioned how great Pujols was – relive the moment below:
The St. Louis Cardinals were crowned 2011 World Series Champions, and life seemingly couldn’t get better for the organization and their fans. However, heartbreak occurred shortly thereafter, when Pujols decided to leave the Cardinals for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. It may have been about the money, it may have been because his mentor and manager for over a decade Tony La Russa retired, or it may have been conflict with the ownership – that we will never know. What I do know, however, is that Pujols will always be a Cardinal in my eyes.
Here’s to a great 2014 season for Albert Pujols – Cardinal Nation will be rooting for you.