The third greatest Cardinal: Albert Pujols
Finally, the St. Louis Cardinals are on a little bit of a roll, climbing over the .500 mark for the first time in the 2019 season.
Their game isn’t suddenly flawless, by any stretch of the imagination. But you can see when you watch the games that they’re starting to come together and play as a team when it comes to the offense. It’s exciting to see a Cardinals team forcing the defense to make mistakes by applying pressure with speed. Kolton Wong drove in a big run Monday with a drag bunt and on Tuesday, Harrison Bader started a late inning rally by beating out a bunt, putting two on with no outs instead of settling for a sacrifice. Meanwhile, the pitching has looked more solid with Adam Wainwright and Dakota Hudson turning in solid performances this week.
While his name may be Hudson, the young Cardinals pitcher looks more like a Houdini to me. The guy lets a lot of guys get on base with six hits and four walks allowed in only 4 2/3 innings Tuesday. But every time he got into a jam, he found a way to get out of it, putting up nothing but zeroes on the scoreboard. It’s a shame he ran up his pitch count and had to depart just before he was eligible to get a victory.
Hudson is still finding his way. He has very good stuff. But he nibbles too much. As he gains confidence I’m sure he’ll start to attack hitters more and will make it deeper into ballgames. It shows in the way he gets into trouble, but then gets out of it when he doesn’t have any margin for error.
I was even excited to see John Brebbia knock Justin Turner off the plate with a two-strike fastball before ringing him up with an outside pitch. Too many times already this season the Redbirds have predictably thrown a ball over the plate with two strikes and let the hitter tee off on it. Keep them honest by busting them inside, keeping hitters from diving over the plate. It’s those little teams that separate good teams from the great ones.
Preparing for Albert Pujols to return to Busch Stadium
A lot of people are interested in seeing Albert Pujols come to town for the first time this season since he left the Cardinals following the 2011 World Series. I have had more people ask me about my tickets for that weekend in June than any other games this season, including opening day. That being said, local hero David Freese is getting the red carpet treatment every time he steps to the plate at Busch Stadium -- and he’s been there a lot of times over the past few years, playing for the National League Dodgers and Pirates.
It’s nice that fans don’t forget the great things Freese accomplished in Game 6 of the Fall Classic in 2011. It may be the single most magical night in Redbirds history -- and that’s saying something when you’re talking about a team that’s won double digit World Series and served as home to hall of famers like Stan Musial, Rogers Hornsby, Lou Brock, Dizzy Dean and even Pujols.
Pujols said the Redbirds didn’t want him bad enough because they initially offered him “only” a five-year deal for $130 million. Funny, eight years later that exact offer was enough to get another superstar player in his early thirties to sign on the dotted line. Those are exactly the same terms Paul Goldschmidt got from St. Louis at the end of spring training. Some people don’t equate Goldschmidt with Pujols, which is ridiculous.
Let’s not confuse 2011 Albert with 2005 Albert. He was still an excellent player, but he’d already fallen from being the best player in baseball to being in the conversation for the top 20. Pujols finished fifth in the NL Most Valuable Player Award balloting and had arguably his weakest season in a St. Louis uniform. Goldschmidt finished sixth in the NL MVP derby last year, was an All-Star and won a Silver Slugger Award.
If anything, it should have taken less to sign Pujols than it took to sign a newcomer. Goldschmidt not only had no reason to give St. Louis a hometown discount, but he made a lot less money up to this point in his career than Albert did before he fled to California. The Cardinals gave Pujols $100 million before he was even eligible for salary arbitration. Goldschmidt signed a ridiculously team-friendly deal with the Arizona Diamondbacks when he was a young player.
Anyway, the Cardinals eventually offered Pujols $210 million over nine years, a figure Albert admits in the interview was more money than he got from the Los Angeles Angels when you consider higher California taxes. Yet he complains that he was under appreciated because the deal in St. Louis wasn’t better. I just don’t get it. Pujols was lined up for a standing ovation for the ages. Why is he trying to spoil it with whining about his contract offer? Isn’t he the one who refused to negotiate once his last season in St. Louis started?
Please, Albert, take a lesson from Freese and don’t spoil the memories. It was a great run and I hope, despite the 10-year personal services contract he signed with the Halos after his playing days were over, that someday Albert will be back with the Cardinals in some capacity. By the time that would be possible, I’ll be retired, so I’ll have more time to hang out at the ballpark and enjoy it.