Why Albert Pujols deserves his last hurrah with the Los Angeles Angels

Spring training is here, the words that lift every baseball fan out of the doldrums of winter and place them firmly on the path to warm afternoons sitting with friends enjoying a $15 hotdog and a $20 beer, at the cheaper ballparks of course.

Albert Pujols of the Los Angeles Angels is a formidable slugger and broke his bat on this occasion. Picture: John McCoy/Getty Images

But those first four words really do lift the spirits of baseball aficionados, many of whom would have spent Sunday evening watching meaningless games, where start players make fleeting appearances alongside players you’ve never heard of before and may never again.

Still, it’s exciting, and is only topped by the feeling which comes a little over a month later when the real games begin.

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While many players will be hoping to make the opening day roster for the first time, a few may well be making it for the last and that seems to be the case for Albert Pujols. The current designated hitter for the Los Angeles Angels looks set to retire. As indicated by his wife on Instagram last week, people thought he was retiring before the season started.

Albert Pujols is entering the final season of his ten-year, $30 million-a-year contract. Picture: Harry How/Getty Images

That would have been a travesty because Albert is a living legend and is deserving of a final run around the track.

Pujols is in the last year of his ten-year contract with the Angels and will unfortunately not put up the numbers associated with other players in the $30 million a year bracket. In fact, Angels fans may well say he hasn’t been worth anywhere near the $224 million total paid to him by the end of this contract.

But, Pujols’ career can be divided into two acts and when the Angels signed the player as a free agent almost a decade ago, they would have been aware that at 32, his production would go into decline during the latter years of the contract.

Now 41, injuries have plagued Pujols since his move to LA, but even including his least productive seasons, he sits fifth in all-time home runs for the Angels.

Pujols produced some of the greatest baseball hitting and fielding that modern fans could ever hope to see in his first act.

In those days, he was a member of the St Louis Cardinals, where he collected both his World Series wins, nine of his ten all-star appearances, two National League MVP's and so many batting titles I’d run out of words listing them.

In those days, the first baseman struck fear into the heart of every pitcher.

Pujols quietly entered the league with a solo single in his first-ever game, and he didn’t record a hit in his next two games as his batting average dropped to a career-low .111. Then El Hombre arrived.

That season Pujols became a unanimous choice for Rookie of the Year, hitting 37 home runs, batted in 130 runs and collected the first of his Silver Slugger awards, all at the age of 21.

During his first 11 years in baseball, Pujols hit 445 home runs, 1,329 runs batted in and was on pace to become one of the greatest ever. What’s more, the slugger produced a feat that in today’s sabermetrics era may never be achieved again. He avoided strikeouts.

At his peak, Pujols was stuck out just 50 times in 2006, and even as his physical ability has declined, his eye hasn’t; a comparison to Mike Trout, the current league superstar and teammate of Pujols, shows he averages 152 strikeouts a season.

There is no dispute that Pujols will be a Hall of Famer. His career stats before the start of this season place him in the echelons of basebal’ls gods. His career batting average of .299 put him in the top 100 players, ever.

Pujols is fifth in home runs, 14th in RBI’s -the next nearest active player is 47th - and 30th in Wins Above Replacement, a stat which puts a number on how many wins a player adds to a team.

If this season is Pujols’ last, and when fans get back to the ballpark, this is a player who will be a draw. Pujols has earned a farewell tour and earned every standing ovation he gets, not just for his on the field performance but for the exemplary player he’s been away from the diamond.

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