Parting was sweet sorrow for the St. Louis Cardinals when Albert Pujols left the familiar confines of Busch Stadium in December 2011 in favor of Southern California sunshine and an absurdly loaded contract that includes a 10-year pension after his retirement.
Few could blame Prince Albert for taking advantage of owner Arte Moreno‘s generosity; a year after completing one of the most remarkable 10-year stretches in the history of baseball in which he averaged 41 homers, 121 RBIs and .331 per season (averaged), why should his next 10 years not be lucrative?
For the Los Angeles Angels, it seemed like a great acquisition despite the price tag. The Halos finished eighth in the American League in 2011 in home runs, and Pujols was fresh off of a 37 home run season. All of a sudden, the lineup was very dangerous indeed.
Fast forward to June 2013, and Pujols is literally limping along in the third spot of the Angel order, his plantar fasciitis slowing him to a career-low .249 and just 13 home runs at the season’s midpoint. Not really what the Angels had in mind for the $240 million man.
Those Angel fans with long memories will recall that this is not the first instance of an exchange gone bad with the Cardinals.
In 2000, the Halos dealt away fan favorite and perennial slugger Jim Edmonds for Adam Kennedy and the woeful Kent Bottenfield. Kennedy went on to make important contributions to the Angels’ 2002 World Series squad, but Bottenfield was an unmitigated disaster, his 5.71 ERA ballooning right along with his physique in 2000.
Edmonds, on the other hand, set up shop as a cleanup hitter for St. Louis batting behind none other than, you guessed it, Pujols.
At any rate, the Cardinals have to be glad they saved money on Pujols’ inevitable monster of a contract. They look as good as ever at 49-32, and already rode Pujols in his prime to two World Series.
The Angels, meanwhile, are playing the waiting game with Pujols. Actually, a praying game is more like it: praying that this is not the Pujols they will be stuck with for the next nine years, praying that Big Al can revive some of that 2000s magic, praying that their persistence and a few hundred million dollars will pay dividends.
This week, however, Los Angeles cannot afford to wait. The Angels begin a brutal July schedule tonight when they greet the Cardinals for a three-game homestand — the first for Pujols against his former team — every game taking on greater significance as the Halos desperately attempt a climb into playoff contention.
Let’s hope the sight of Cardinal uniforms is just what Pujols needs for his bat to recall its former strength.
Tony Baker is a Los Angeles Angels blogger for Rant Sports. You can follow him on Twitter at @tonloc_baker.