Albert Pujols and His Not-So-Wonderful LifeBaseball, The Cheap Seats — By Matt Whitener on June 28, 2013 at 3:00 am
Albert Pujols is a man lost in his own time.
In a week where the overstated has been the norm, out of nowhere comes Pujols with some commentary on the last few years of his life that could easily reignite a fire that would be better to let burn out. In an interview with Fox Sports, Pujols described what can at best be described a conflicted outlook on his the current place of his career, as well as his past with the St. Louis Cardinals. This is an odd approach by a man who has been at the top, and is bobsledding down from it now, picking up speed daily. But one thing is for sure: reality is doing a number on the former best player in the world.
It’s not that all of Pujols credibility is gone. He’s still a first ballot Hall of Famer, who rightfully sits among the top 20 or so players of all-time. He’s accomplished all of this within the first dozen years of his career, but his precocious feats are now spear in his side as well. He is far too young in his career to be reflective, and slightly upset, during his decline. But after what he’s been through in the last year, it’s no shock that that some frustration, despair and general saltiness, could begin to rise to the surface. After all, a fall from a still-existent grace is has to be an impossibly angering thing to endure.
Perhaps he’s experiencing a bit of the George Bailey syndrome going on: he gave up what he’s known to chase a dream, only did not find it. And now has been driven to the edge of losing everything he ever held important, chasing what really wasn’t in hindsight. The money matters, but its an ugly truth finding out it cannot make everything better, or even as it was. But now as he walks through his everyday life, he has to watch everything else that was his be great, while he erodes and is bound to a road of struggle and redemption.
But the road to redemption cannot be one where he spreads a bad seed where he grew the highest. With his comments on how he feels ‘bitter’ about how he was done during his departure from St. Louis could frame him as insatiable, and at worse, jealous. While that is surely not his intent, it is impossible for him to not long for yesterday. Because the sky did not fall when he left St. Louis, as was predicted. To the contrary, the Cardinals were the World Champions when he left, and now a year and a half later, they had another trip to the National League Championship Series and are the tied for the best record in baseball today as well.
Over that same time, he’s missed the playoffs, had his two worse seasons, been constantly injured and has found himself mired back towards the bottom of his own division again with an even lesser impact on the outcome this season than the year before. All of this while being surrounded by a cast that features four of the top 30 or so players in baseball, and that was birth righted among baseball’s elite. That’s a hell of a shock to the system for a guy that made a decision that seemed too good to pass on, and a situation in LA he is already describing as “having to make the best of”, just a few months off of yet another presumptive run back to the success he regularly experienced in his former baseball life.
That’s a bad look in the moment, but one thing he does have is a chance at redemption. He isn’t the first athlete to leave where he became legend, and found tougher waters on the other side. Surely Brett Favre could relate, as could Alex Rodriguez. Despite the success of the Cardinals since his departure, there is still much anger directed towards even the mention of Pujols name. Not because the team has struggled without him, but because there’s hurt there. He was a hero, a homegrown one. And despite what is bad now, there’s still an underlying yearning for his presence. Time heals all wounds, but any further commentary of any sort against the team could cause for a creek to become a canyon, and for no bridge to ever be able to link the sides.
Nobody wants to see anybody who’s gotten exactly what they have asked for be bitter, or even too quickly whistful, reflective and remorseful. The best thing he can do is stand up, and bring his chosen home along with him. But is it still there? For Pujols, his reality continues to reform itself around him and he’s clearly a conflicted man; one that’s in a transition that’s not that desirable. Surely that is something Bailey could empathize with. But like George, he will have have to walk the path he’s chosen and live with his ghosts, while finding a way to make his present better among them.