MLB’s subdued farewell to Cardinals legend Albert Pujols

Albert Pujols #5 of the St. Louis Cardinals at bat in the game against the Milwaukee Brewers at American Family Field on April 17, 2022 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images)
Albert Pujols #5 of the St. Louis Cardinals at bat in the game against the Milwaukee Brewers at American Family Field on April 17, 2022 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images) /

St. Louis Cardinals legend Albert Pujols isn’t getting the fanfare of some of his counterparts in their final seasons.

For one of the greatest players to ever put on a baseball uniform, the reception around baseball after St. Louis Cardinals slugger Albert Pujols announced that this will be his last season was one of indifference.

You can’t overstate how good Pujols was in his prime with the Cardinals from 2001 to 2011. The three-time MVP is fifth on the all-time home runs list with 683, 445 of which came in that legendary 11-year span with St. Louis. Yet as San Diego Padres third baseman Manny Machado pointed out, Pujols is not receiving anywhere near the sendoff that other titans of the modern era did, such as Derek Jeter and David Ortiz.

In Jeter’s and Ortiz’s final seasons, they were lavished with gifts from nearly every team they faced. As far as I know, Pujols has yet to receive a gift from the opposition. In fact, he barely gets more than a smattering of applause in away games, a far cry from the acknowledgments Jeter and Ortiz received at opponents’ stadiums.

Even though by most statistics, Pujols has had a superior career to Jeter and Ortiz, this reception he’s received, or lack thereof, just doesn’t feel like it fits. So what’s the big difference? Why did those two players receive so much adoration while Pujols receives so little? I have a few theories.

First of all, Jeter and Ortiz were more synonymous with one team. It’s no secret that players who spent their entire careers with one team are looked on more favorably when it comes to their status as an icon. Jeter played with the New York Yankees for all 20 years of his career, and while Ortiz spent the first six seasons of his 20-year career with the Minnesota Twins, he didn’t hit his stride until he signed with the Boston Red Sox in 2003.

The Yankees and Red Sox are among the most storied franchises in baseball, and this no doubt contributed to the massive spotlights Jeter and Ortiz were under. The Cardinals have a colorful and lengthy history as well, but undercutting that is the fact that Pujols spent 11 years playing in Los Angeles.

While I think most fans have forgiven Pujols for leaving the Cardinals after the 2011 season, I have seen a few who still hold a grudge against him for that, even though it was soon revealed that he was not the player he was in St. Louis. And I believe that’s another reason for the milquetoast applause this year.

While Jeter and Ortiz were elite up to the end or near the end of their careers, Pujols has been average at best for the last decade. A generation of fans has only seen this version of Pujols, and anyone 18 and under likely has few to no memories of Pujols in his first go-around in a Cardinals uniform. Since a large number of fans never saw Pujols at the peak of his powers, it makes sense that fewer people recognize the effect he had on the game and the terror he caused opposing pitchers.

Finally, Pujols’ personality could play a part in this. While Jeter was a swinging bachelor during his career and dated several high-profile women and Ortiz was swimming in commercial revenue, Pujols is far more reticent and has kept a much lower profile off the field during his playing days. “The Machine” dominated on the field and let the other guys make the headlines off of it.

When Pujols was at his best, he was among the greatest players in the history of the game. He deserves to be treated as such, and while he will be a no-doubt first-ballot Hall of Famer, it’s a shame that people aren’t giving him the salutations he deserves. A statue outside Busch Stadium sounds nice, though.

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