Albert Pujols: Strange things are afoot at the Big A


Los Angeles Angels fans have seen more frustration from Albert Pujols than celebration. (Jason Miller/Getty Images)

Do you remember the time you bought a bunch of Doc Gooden rookie cards because you knew he was a sure-fire Hall of Famer? Or maybe the time you bought that home theater system from the guy in the white van at your grocery store whose company had “ordered too many”? Or maybe the time you made a new Internet friend who had won the lottery in another country and needed some financial assistance in getting the funds released?

And do you remember that time you spent $240 million on a first baseman of questionable age and as soon as your season started, he dramatically underperformed and showed no signs of recovery and you’ve got him locked up for nine more seasons?

Well, these were all quite disappointing, though that last one really only applies to Anaheim Angels owner Arte Moreno – though one could make an argument that a similar thing happened with the Phillies and their awful contract extension with Ryan Howard which looked stupid at the time and became even stupider when Howard blew out his Achilles at the end of last season (before the extension actually began “extending”).

After the first 25 games of the season, Albert Pujols, who currently costs the Angels about $150,000 per game, is having the worst start of his career and maybe even the worst stretch of 24 games in his career. I’m sure I could find this out exactly, but I don’t feel the research is essential to my overall theme (translation: I am lazy, research is for people who care).

The first month of the season is over and Pujols has zero home runs. That’s exactly as many as I have! And you! Do you want to know who’s hitting better than him? Everyone. I know I’m prone to sarcasm, but this time I’m not even remotely joking. But, rest assured the jokes are coming. Speaking of which …

So far Pujols is crappy … Pujols stinks … Pujols keeps whiffing … Pujols isn’t carrying his load … Pujols looks tight … Pujols is missing his thunder … Pujols has a bad eye … And no one seems to know what’s going on with Pujols.

I’m not just writing this column because it’s such a delight to repeatedly say Pujols’ name and have him as the butt of my jokes. I’m also concerned … about my fantasy baseball team. I made this guy the number-one pick in my draft – passing up guys like Ryan Braun, Matt Kemp and Miguel Cabrera – because I thought he was going to, you know, be Albert Pujols – and not be what comes out of a poo hole. You could say I was expecting huge things from Pujols. (Sorry, I can’t stop – and I won’t stop.)

Last year with St. Louis, Pujols also started slow – not like this, but slow enough to raise some concerns. However, he eventually got things going and was back to his old form by mid-season. And, now, after signing a mega deal to leave the Cardinals for sunny Southern California, it would be an understatement to say his performance has been a disappointment. Fortunately for Pujols, when Angels fans get disappointed they don’t actually get angry – they just go for a swim in their pools or stroll down to the beach or go shopping.

Seeing Pujols struggle at the plate, it makes you think that maybe he’s trying so hard to prove everyone wrong who said he was overpaid or maybe prove the Cardinals wrong for letting him go. The same thing happened to Carl Crawford last year with the Red Sox, but now Carl gets to hide behind a series of “injuries” that are responsible for him being a terrible acquisition. And the Miami Marlins are going through a similar problem with Jose Reyes this year. They paid him a ton and he is yet to deliver the goods. Granted, he’s not quite Pujols-bad.

Regardless of whether he’s putting too much pressure on himself or he hasn’t adjusted to Anaheim’s pleasant climate or he’s allergic to Rally Monkeys, one thing is pretty clear: he has a severe case of DCS. He’s got all the symptoms, and he certainly meets all the criteria for DCS. Unfortunately, only time will tell if his DCS is temporary or if he’s got full-blown DCS.

Psst ... Albert. Maybe you should ... um, never mind.

Oh, sorry, I should probably explain what DCS is, right? DCS stands for David Caruso Syndrome; that’s when a successful person leaves a perfectly successful scenario and goes somewhere else in search of the lesser motivations – pride, money, fame – and proceeds to fail miserably. As many people know, the affliction’s namesake, David Caruso, was once on the highly successful NYPD Blue and left for “greener” pastures that turned out to not only be less green, but were practically scorched earth where no seed could find purchase.

Albert Pujols was the best player on a Cardinals team that had just won the World Series in a town that worshipped him, and he decided it was in his best interest to sign his mega deal that he could never really live up to, even at his prime, and to do it in a town like Anaheim – a town that really had no idea who he was and for whom he had to immediately demonstrate value.

After the deal was signed, the team immediately began marketing the hell out of him. They wanted everyone to see their new Pujols. They knew they had to strike fast because he was costing them a fortune and their rivals, the Dodgers, were still lost in the wilderness. They put up signs all over town promoting the addition of Pujols, proclaiming him as “El Hombre” – which is Spanish for “The Man.” Al asked them to remove this as he feels the nickname detracts from Stan “The Man” Musial – of whom Al is quite fond. Oh, sorry, Al, can you give us a list of approved marketing strategies? Ridiculous! More like “El Niño,” right, Spanish speaking readers?

This is all just bad karma. The Cardinals are currently in first place in their division and the Angels are in last place. Obviously that’s not all Albert’s fault. But even though baseball is a sport of individual achievement, you can’t help but think that his troubles weigh on the rest of the team and affect them as well. That’s just human nature. If Diane in Accounts Receivable keeps sobbing loudly in her cubicle because her precious cat got run over by her neighbor, it starts to affect her co-workers dispositions and then their work suffers.

Many years ago Jim Thome entered into free agency after having spent several years with the Cleveland Indians, and I was surprised and shocked that he wound up signing with the Philadelphia Phillies. Sure, he was going to make almost $2 million more per year, but above $10 million a year I refuse to believe that those numbers really mean anything other than ego.

The surprising part was that he was going to a National League team where he would have to play first base every day instead of staying in the American League and being a designated hitter. This decision would cause a number of injuries and push the Phillies to trade him away before they won their championship. And the shocking part was that the offer from the Indians, though it was less in overall value, included something that the Philadelphia offer didn’t have – a statue. That’s right, a statue of Jim Thome at the stadium. Forever. One that friends, family, fans and strangers could enjoy and admire. He turned that down and has been bouncing around the league ever since.

Bad karma.

And this is where Pujols is. He turned his back on millions of fans and took a payday that, within a few years, will be one of the best punch lines in the league. He claimed there were “respect” issues in St. Louis. Okay, Al, you keep telling yourself that as you try to get that first home run.

The saving grace of DCS is that it’s not fatal in most cases. Why even David Caruso himself rose from the ashes of his own stupidity, greed and egomania to later find success on CSI: Miami – yet another crime drama, this time playing the whitest person in South Florida and yet named Horatio. And the show was a hit. TV is where he belonged and as soon as he figured it out, and accepted his fate, he was back on top.

Before we get all sad for “poor” Albert and his horrible start, let’s just remember that the $240 million is guaranteed no matter if he plays like he is now or like a Hall of Famer. I actually think he will turn it around and live up to (somewhat) the value of his deal to help the Angels contend and, more importantly, help my fantasy baseball team get back on track.

And here’s one last joke for the road: I definitely expect good things out of Pujols.

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