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Couch: Albert Pujols Deserves Much, Much Better, And That’s Just Sad

Albert Pujols hit 667 home runs over more than a fifth of a century, won three MVPs, two World Series and had more than 3,200 hits. He was kicked to the curb on a Thursday. 

Don’t cry for his hardship. Sports are a cruel and cutthroat business, and he’s going to be paid $30 million not to play the rest of the season, and another $1 million a year for 10 years to never play again. Over the past 10 years with the Los Angeles Angels, his salary added up to a quarter of a billion dollars.

But it just seems as if his career deserved a better ending than what it got. He was reportedly unhappy that he wasn’t in the lineup on Wednesday against a pitcher he has always beaten badly, so he was angry and wanted to know what had happened.

The next day, Thursday, the Angels issued a press release with the headline: Angles designate Albert Pujols for assignment.

“ANAHEIM, CA — The Angels announced today that the Club has designated INF/DH Albert Pujols for assignment.’’

INF/DH Albert Pujols?

Not Albert Pujols, who hit three home runs in one World Series game, something only Reggie Jackson and some guy named Babe Ruth had done? Not Albert Pujols, who had 3,000 hits and 600 homers and multiple World Series championships, joining only. . .no one. Pujols is the only player in history to have done that.

When you look at the numbers, the comparisons are to Ruth and Gehrig, Aaron and Mays, Williams and Bonds. That’s who Albert Pujols is.

Not INF/DH Albert Pujols.

This is what Hall of Fame pitcher Pedro Martinez tweeted about Pujols: “I’m not surprised about the shameful way @Angels treated you and your legacy today.’’

Pujols is 41 years old and was hitting just .198. He does have five homers, but the Angels have decided that Jared Walsh is better at first base now than Pujols and Shohei Ohtani is the regular designated hitter.

“Albert is not a bench player. . .’’ Angels GM Perry Minasian said in a Zoom news conference. “I think if there were at-bats for him to play here, it’d be different.’’

Pujols has not spoken publicly since being released, and that has allowed the Angels to control the message. They portray the split this way: They met with Pujols, who said that he plays every day or he doesn’t play at all. Meanwhile, the team says he’s not going to play every day. So they parted ways.

“There was no fight, there was no argument,” Minasian said. “This was a conversation that went back and forth. He expressed his feelings, we expressed ours. He understood where we stood on the whole situation. Things did not end bad. I gave him a big hug.’’

How sweet! (Sarcasm)

That does not seem plausible. If it were such a big-hug moment, then why didn’t Pujols and the team come up with some nice way to put this? Or some way for the fans to say goodbye? Why wasn’t Pujols there, next to his bosses?

Why was Martinez calling it “shameful”?

Pujols spent 11 seasons with the St. Louis Cardinals, where he won his MVPs and World Series. He averaged 40 homers and a .328 batting average while there. His numbers dropped with the Angels, as he got older and suffered injuries. He did average 98 RBIs through his first six seasons there.

He’s apparently going to look for a team to move to now, and he will be worth it. Pujols can still hit 25 home runs, and the Angels will pay almost all of his salary.

But the question is whether he has already stayed too long. In his last 4 seasons, plus this year, he has never hit more than .245.

It always seems sad when sports legends can’t go out with glory. Michael Jordan left with a championship. John Elway left after a Super Bowl. Pete Sampras left after winning the U.S. Open.

Willie Mays is always held as the example of the other side of that story. He stuck around too long, like a lot of boxers, and played poorly in the field and at bat in the end.

Pujols, released on Mays’ 90th birthday, was lucky to have a designated hitter possibility.

It just feels as if a great talent should be able to go out differently. But this will have to do. His Hall of Fame plaque won’t say INF/DH Albert Pujols.

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Written by Greg Couch

Greg earned the 2007 Peter Lisagor Award as the best sports columnist in the Chicagoland area for his work with the Chicago Sun-Times, where he started as a college football writer in 1997 before becoming a general columnist in 2003. He also won a Lisagor in 2016 for his commentary in RollingStone.com and The Guardian.

Couch penned articles and columns for CNN.com/Bleacher Report, AOL Fanhouse, and The Sporting News and contributed as a writer and on-air analyst for FoxSports.com and Fox Sports 1 TV. In his journalistic roles, Couch has covered the grandest stages of tennis from Wimbledon to the Olympics, among numerous national and international sporting spectacles. He also won first place awards from the U.S. Tennis Writers Association for his event coverage and column writing on the sport in 2010.

15 Comments

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  1. I don’t think it’s fair, true, or accurate for Pedro to call Pujols’ treatment “shameful” after collecting a quarter billion from the Angels for pedestrian performances. It’s fair to say the Angels didn’t get their money’s worth, but never said otherwise to my knowledge; paying him every unearned cent. How’s that shameful? It sounds ungrateful and privileged imo. To me, criticism of LA is absurd considering they continually gave Pujols every opportunity to play, even after he was obviously washed up. Also, Pujols hasn’t helped his case to stay in the lineup by the obvious absence of any effort to stay in shape. He looks terrible, fat, slow, and that’s not injury related – it’s cheeseburger and Netflix related. The part that is shameful is Pedro trying to taint Albert’s exit with some disrespected victim angle. Sometimes Pedro makes sense, and sometimes he just sounds like an ingrate who forgets how fortunate he and others are to get rich playing a game.

    • Shannon G is correct about the long term contracts. Pujols probably would have retired two seasons ago without it.

      Always liked Pujols and was fortunate enough to catch his 103rd home run at PNC Park so he provided a great memory for me.

  2. I don’t know a baseball fan who doesn’t like Albert Pujols, but he was batting .198 with 5 HRs as a DH. That’s worse than 37 year old Kurt Suzuki, their catcher. You can’t have this in your everyday lineup if you want to win. Albert should have sucked it up and recognized that.

  3. Not sure “shameful” is the correct word. As a business owner of 25+ years, some tough decisions are made with eyes on the future. Besides, paying Pujols $250,000,000 for ten years eliminates any disgrace or shame directed at the Angels!!

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