Last Tuesday, Albert Pujols hit his 499th and 500th career home runs, which put him in elite company all time in baseball’s timeline. While he had long established his standing as a future Hall of Famer, it is moments like this that affirm that early acclamation was bestowed accurately.
However, along with this high is an interesting low that parallels it in his former home, where he truly laid the path to this platform. Because in St. Louis, everything that is to come from this point on — his 3,000th hit and beyond, a 600th home run or even a nightly big hit — is seen through the much dimmer light of it not happening in the uniform or for the town that he was so tantamount with during his climb toward the immortality he is now certifying.
It is an interesting mix of emotions in the city itself. A franchise player becomes a part of the city. The fans ingrain themselves to that individual, and he becomes a part of the shared fabric that they connect themselves to with the organization. Pujols became that to the city of St. Louis and its shared alliance with the flagship team of the city.
When Pujols left in December of 2011, he derailed the high the city was riding on after its 11th World Series win and the momentum that carries over after that event. He immediately became a pariah or an outcast of sorts to the people who felt betrayed by the player who had become synonymous with their shared view of the franchise. When he left, by choice, it seemed that he turned his back on what had become a way of life for one of the most consistent franchises in the game. Basically, he woke everyone else up from the dream by showing he was not a part of it anymore.
A little over two years ago, I wrote a piece about days like this (although the full article is lost to a dead website). Pujols left St. Louis at a time when he was on deck to create the memorable moments of his career. There was a plant of the rite of passage of a legendary career that was taken away from the grounds that it grew from originally. The toughest part of the divorce of Pujols and the St. Louis Cardinals would not be the effect on the team; St. Louis continued to stay a part of the peak clubs in the game. Rather, it would be the loss of the definitive moments of his legacy and the ability to share in those. Now, two years and over 180 victories later, St. Louis can only revel from afar … and with a bitter taste in a detached mouth.
Assumption is a huge, self-made enemy that defeats many a fanbase. And in the case of the city of St. Louis, the assumption that Pujols would be a lifelong member of its fold wins out over any of the benefits or rationality of his departure. Therefore, there can be no celebration for one of its legends extending his mythical status. There can only be the stew of regret, distaste and hurt that remains.
Time heals all wounds, but it is going to take the last sand of his run to hit the bottom of the hourglass before that process can completely start in St. Louis. However, the truth of the issue is that the extension of Pujols’ career is merely the continued validation of the foundation that he set in the Cardinal uniform. Maybe it takes a decade or maybe it takes a generation, but the truth of the state of affairs will win out: Pujols’ accomplishments continue to solidify a legend firmly based in his original home.