Pujols not the attraction he once was

Sports Commentary

It sort of felt like old times.

Albert Pujols wearing red and white, the No. 5 emblazoned across the back of his jersey. The St. Louis Cardinals on the same field. The future Hall of Famer, slotted in his familiar three-hole, digging in for an at-bat.

It’s something we’ve all seen many, many times during Pujols’ illustrious 11-year career with the Cardinals.

And every time Pujols would come up to bat during his time with St. Louis, it was always a spectacle.

Home or away, there was always a palpable buzz in the stadium whenever he stepped to the plate. You could even sense it through the television.

No matter what I was doing, I’d always look up and watch his at-bats. That can’t be said for any other player I’ve ever watched. I was always expecting him to do something amazing, to put on a performance that almost reminded me I was a mere mortal in comparison.

And as I watched the recently completed series in Anaheim from the comfort of the newsroom, Pujols’ at-bats were much different. I barely even stirred, even missing a couple of them because I just didn’t care.

And it’s not for the reasons you might think. It’s not because he plays for the Angels or because I’m full of hatred for the man.

I got over the Cardinals-Pujols breakup long ago. I have no more feelings of animosity.

I got to see the 11 of the greatest years ever put together by a major-league ballplayer. I got to see Pujols lead the Cardinals to two World Series titles, three appearances in the Fall Classic and seven playoff berths.

Sure, it takes more than just one player accomplish as much, but I’m not sure the Cardinals do any of that without him.

So the reason I didn’t care?

It’s because Pujols is no longer the player he once was. The longtime St. Louis icon is nowhere near the same player he was in the Gateway City. He’s given the Angels the worst year-and-a-half of his brilliant career, including a 1-of-11 with three strikeouts against the Cardinals. That was just sad to watch.

Heading into the weekend, this is what Pujols has done for the Angels since the beginning of the 2012 season: .271 average, 43 home runs and 154 RBI in 236 games.

Not bad by any stretch of the imagination. Also nowhere near the numbers El Hombre put up with the Cardinals. Pujols is hitting .244 (remember he’s a career .321 hitter) this season with 13 homers and 49 RBI. He’s clearly in decline. His on-base percentage this season is down nearly 100 points from his career average (.319 from .410), and his slugging percentage is down nearly 180 points (.420 from .599).

And now the Cardinals don’t have to deal with his monstrosity of a contract (10 years, $240 million) in his declining years. And there’s still eight more years on the deal, not to mention the 10-year personal services agreement that pays Pujols a cool million a year after he retires.

While St. Louis is still in position to win for years to come, especially with a strong nucleus of young talent making its way up from Memphis, the Angels can’t say the same. Handicapped by the contracts to Pujols and Josh Hamilton, it might be awhile until Los Angeles starts winning again.

In a way I feel bad for Angels’ fans.

They haven’t witnessed Pujols perform like one of the greatest players of all time. They haven’t seen him single-handedly carry a team to victory (e.g. Game 3 of the 2011 World Series where Pujols swatted three homers). They don’t see him as an icon.

They see a player in decline, a has-been, a superstar far past his prime.

There’s no more buzz when he comes to the plate. There are no more at-bats that make you stop dead in your tracks just to watch.

Los Angeles may have Albert Pujols. But the Angels will never have what St. Louis had, something Cardinals fans will always have.

Albert Pujols.

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