It's been fun, Albert | Bleader

It's been fun, Albert


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Albert Pujols from Shutterstock
So long, King Albert. I've appreciated watching you cream my beloved Cincinnati Reds and the rest of the National League Central for the past 11 years. No, I'm being serious. I've always wanted to hate you, and for a few years I may have convinced myself I did. But eventually that hate turned into admiration and respect for the athlete you were, are, and probably will continue to be, at least for a while. Hell, I remember loathing Jordan during his early years (I was a huge Wilkins fan), but as clutch shots kept falling, championships kept piling up, and rabid killer instinct kept taking over games, I couldn't help but shake my head in disbelief and throw my hands up in puzzled yet amazed exasperation. It seemed almost ignorant at that point not to stake out a spot on the bandwagon.

And that's how I feel about you, Albert. During your NL Central stay, you hit 46 homers against the Reds, with the Cubs and Pirates watching 53 and 48 fly over the fence, respectively. A good 143 runs were scored on my home team thanks to your bat, and you hit a .350 average in 172 games—your highest average against any National League team. And then there were the countless number of walk-offs (I know Cubs fans can sympathize here). I can't tell you how many times I've cursed and screamed at the radio or TV to intentionally walk you in crucial situations. But the seemingly endless line of dolts that were given opportunities to fill out lineup cards never seemed to catch on. And I applaud you for making 'em pay.

I vividly remember the 2006 nightmare at the newly christened Busch Stadium when you swatted three homers against the Reds, the last being a walk-off that won the game 8-7. You remember that season, don't you, Albert? It was when you set the record for most home runs in the month of April with 14, and later went on to win the first of two World Series with the Cardinals (albeit a bit fluky). I couldn't even muster a "Fuck you, Pujols" when you hit that home run. You know why? Because I knew it was going to happen. I was neither surprised nor shocked. I knew you were going to hit that homer and win the game, because that's just what you do.

And for that reason, I'm sad to see you go, Albert. No really, I swear I'm being serious. I know you went for the money, because you have a right to compete with the mega A-Rod contracts—I mean, you are a three-time NL MVP, a nine-time all-star, and a two-time Gold Glove winner. And I know much of Saint Louis is trying to act all "whatever, it's business" in regard to your departure. But trust me, they didn't want you to go, not even a little bit. St. Louis Post-Dispatch sports columnist Bernie Miklasz writes:

This was Pujols' opportunity of a lifetime, his one true golden shot at free agency. Pujols and his agent, Dan Lozano, didn't realize their ultimate goal of surpassing the A-Rod haul of 10 years and $275 million from the Yankees. But give them credit for coming close. The Angels made Pujols an offer he couldn't refuse.

Financially, Pujols is a winner. I think he's lost something special, the chance to retire as the second-greatest Cardinal of all time, just behind Stan Musial and slightly ahead of Bob Gibson. That's all gone now. And maybe that's the way it should be. Now that Pujols has gone to Cali, Musial will permanently own all of the important franchise records. Pujols can't touch them now.

Pujols willingly gave up his spot as one of history's inner circle Cardinals and will be viewed as just another athlete.

Angels fans will go crazy for Pujols, but he'll never be loved the way he was loved in St. Louis. When he gets old and breaks down, he'll never receive the level of empathy that would have come his way in St. Louis.

Can you feel the resentment, Albert? Miklasz's column is based on acknowledging the business side of baseball, admitting that "If the Angels wanted to give Pujols $254 million over 10 years, I can't blame Pujols for jumping." But the move sticks in his craw, no matter how much he wants to deny it. And you know what, I can't say I blame him either, Albert. You're Saint Louis's homegrown prodigy, the one thing the city could always hang its hat on. And now you're skipping town, on the heels of an improbable World Series victory—one I watched in disbelief as you smacked three homers in Game 3 and helped the Cardinals miraculously stave off a pair of imminent elimination opportunities in Game 6. But hey, I guess skipping town on top is the way to go.

So, I bid you a fond farewell, Albert. I hope you enjoy sunny southern California, the buttloads of money, and the opportunity to eventually prolong your career as a designated hitter. Starting in 2013, you'll even get to play the Astros 15 times a year again, which I'm sure will bring back fond memories of your days dominating the NL Central. Some believe the Angels overpaid for you, Albert. Some think you're breaking down and your slight decline in statistics over the past few years should be more telling than the Angels are willing to accept. All I know is that I'll miss the dread of seeing you amble to the plate, with a thicker and thicker frame each year, as I try to convince myself that you're falling apart physically. It sure is a good thing you repeatedly forced me back into consciousness by splashing home runs in the Ohio River. Thanks for that, Albert.

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