Albert Pujols, wearing a new uniform for the first time in a decade, and a new number for the first time in two decades, sat smiling in front of a Zoom camera Monday for 17 minutes looking like a completely invigorated 41-year-old player.
There was no need to talk about his 10-year, $240 million contract. No one brought up the expectations that were never filled. The injuries along the way. Or even the postseason drought.
This day, wearing the uniform of the defending World Series champion Los Angeles Dodgers, he looked like he fit right in, resurrecting memories of those great St. Louis Cardinals teams he left behind.
Pujols no longer is being asked to help carry a club, or even be an everyday player for that matter, but simply be a piece of a powerful, but injury-riddled team, trying to become the first National League team since the Cincinnati Reds’ Big Red Machine in 1975-76 to win back-to-back World Series.
There were three future Hall of Famers and the all-time hit king on those Reds teams, while the Dodgers now feature four former MVPs and three Cy Young winners.
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Pujols, of course, could have stayed with the Los Angeles Angels if he accepted the same bench role. He had no interest, the Angels said, and Pujols vented his frustration and ire with the team’s direction in a private meeting with Angels president John Carpino and GM Perry Minasian.
Yet, Pujols insisted Monday that he never demanded on being the every-day first baseman, saying it was strictly the Angels’ decision to designate him for assignment.
“My goal over the last two years was never to be an everyday first baseman,’’ Pujols said. “They made a business decision. No hard feelings. I understand that. …
"I’m just glad to get another opportunity.’’
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After 11 seasons with the Cardinals and 10 seasons playing for the Angels, Albert Pujols is on his third and possibly final MLB team. (Photo: Kevin Jairaj, USA TODAY Sports)
Funny how just two weeks can sooth bitterness and resentment as Pujols spent most of the time simply thanking the Dodgers for believing in him, while being upfront with their plans for him.
“This is where I felt was my first fit,’’ Pujols said. “I’m really excited. Really pumped up. I’m looking forward to this next chapter in my life and hopefully help this organization win another championship.’’
If Pujols had his ultimate wish, of course, the Cardinals would have called, and offered him at least a part-time role.
They showed no interest. No calls. Nothing.
There were two, maybe three other teams that telephoned, but no one was offering a full-time job.
So, if you’re going to go somewhere as a bench player, why not go to the most talented team in baseball that provides the best opportunity for Pujols to win his third World Series?
“The game plan that they laid out for me and the communication was really important,’’ Pujols said. “I see how they go about it. And I think that's something that I wanted to be part of.’’
Pujols might have been hitting .198 with a .622 OPS playing for the Angels, with five home runs in 92 plate appearances, but the Dodgers realized they could use his right-handed bat. The Dodgers are hitting just .217 against lefties this year with a .352 slugging percentage, while Pujols had three homers and an .878 slugging percentage in 28 plate appearances against lefties.
Considering the Dodgers have 13 players on the injured list, and the only two right-handed hitters off the bench are rookies Sheldon Neuse and DJ Peters, why wouldn’t the Dodgers jump at Pujols at the cost of only about $425,000? You’re talking about a future Hall of Famer, a 10-time All-Star and a three-time MVP.
Who knows, if Pujols heats up, he could play often at first base with Max Muncy moving to second base while Gavin Lux takes over as the starting shortstop with Corey Seager on the injured list for the next month.
Dodgers president Andrew Friedman has a history of bringing in former stars who provide leadership into the clubhouse. They signed David Freese and Chase Utley, and became integral pieces during their NL West title reign. Who can forget Utley’s critical two-run, eighth-inning single against the Washington Nationals in the 2016 Division Series that propelled them to the NLCS, or Freese hitting .400 in the 2018 postseason?
Freese and Pujols won a World Series title together with the Cardinals in 2011, and now 10 years later, Freese believes that Pujols and the Dodgers will be a perfect fit. The Dodgers have a perpetual urgency to win, and their environment will make Pujols immediately comfortable.
He’ll have to get used to his new number, 55. He couldn’t wear No. 5 since it’s worn by Seager. So he chose 55, symbolizing God’s goodness and grace in the Bible.
He’ll have to study up on the National League pitchers he’ll be seeing for the first time.
And he’ll have to adjust to the traffic with his hour-long commute to Dodger Stadium.
Yet, he’s finally back on a winner again after reaching the postseason just once in his nine years with the Angels. Since the Angels last won a postseason game in 2009, the Dodgers have won eight consecutive NL West titles, three pennants and a World Series.
Who knows, maybe he’ll enjoy the Dodgers so much that he’ll keep on playing, needing just 33 homers to join the 700-homer club with Barry Bonds, Hank Aaron and Babe Ruth? Certainly, he had no interest in talking about any future retirement plans this day.
“I feel like I still got some gasoline left in my tank,’’ he said.
And maybe a chip on his shoulder, too, although he dismissed the idea of vengeance towards the Angels or anyone else who didn’t show interest once he cleared waivers.
“I don't have to show the Angels or anybody,’’ Pujols says. “I’m just going to go be myself out there and play the game. I love this game. I enjoy this game. I’m going to try to have fun.’’
Follow Bob Nightengale on Twitter @BNightengale.
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