When Albert Pujols signed a 10-year $240 million free agent contract to come to Los Angeles as a member of the Angels, he also brought a heavy burden of expectation. After being one of the most dominant hitters in baseball for more than a decade with the St. Louis Cardinals, he had cashed in and would be called on to play up to his new gigantic contract.
The transition was less than smooth for anyone involved. Pujols was coming off his worst season statistically, though he still hit 37 home runs, and the talks about an extension with the Cardinals had progressively gotten uglier and more contentious as the process wore on. When Albert finally signed elsewhere, there was backlash from Cardinals fans, calling the long time fan favorite “selfish,” while Pujols and his wife claimed the Cardinals were not really interested in offering him a deal he was worth.
Things didn’t get much better when he arrived in Los Angeles. In the excitement of signing the future Hall of Fame first baseman, the Angels PR team put billboards all over Southern California, including several with Pujols and “El Hombre” emblazoned over his shoulder, playing off his Latin heritage and his dominance as “the man” in baseball. Only one problem with that. There’s already a Hall of Famer nicknamed “the man” in Stan Musial, a Cardinals great that Pujols has met and formed a friendship with during his time in St. Louis. That relationship made Pujols uneasy about receiving the nickname, feeling it infringed on Musial’s legacy and had asked people NOT to call him that for many years. Not the best first impression by the Halos for the Angels new employee.
Then April came, and with it the start of the season…and things got even worse. After spending his entire career in the same place, with the same core group and same coaching staff, taking his swings in the same stadium for a dozen years, transitioning to a new home proved more difficult than just filling out a change of address form. April was one of the worst slumps in Pujols’ illustrious career. He hit no home runs, was hitless in five straight games at one point, drove in just four runs, went without an RBI for a 14 game stretch, and saw his average fall below .200 at the latest point of a season in his career.
That’s when the doubters came out of the woodwork. The rumor that Pujols falsified his birth certificate and may actually be older than 32 grew legs and started running wild. Cardinals fans, still upset over his departure (or rather the way in which he departed) chimed in about how they saw he was done last season, and they were happy their team unloaded him before he tanked. There was no shortage of people ready to bury Pujols’ career and mock the Angels for their enormous “mistake” of a contract offer. His average finally bottomed out at .194 on May 4, and it wasn’t until May 6, in Pujols’ 111th at-bat as an Angel, that the slugger finally went deep. Since then, it’s been vintage Pujols.
As cold as he was in April, that’s how hot he’s been in May. Since hitting that elusive first home run, he’s knocked out another seven, giving him eight over the last 28 days. He’s raised his average up to .243, hitting .263 in May, and raised his slugging percentage from .304 at the end of April up to .408. His RBI drought can officially be called “quenched” as he’s knocked in 24 runs in May, second best in baseball, and now leads the team in RBI with 28 on the year. Pujols still feels like he has some work to do to really get back into form, so expect things to just keep getting better as the season goes along.
Albert Pujols has undoubtedly played up to expectations so far in 2012. It could be argued that it’d be near impossible to meet the expectations that come with $240 million, but his slump has been one of the biggest disappointments in a disappointing start for the Halos. Everyone on the team kept telling us to be patient, Pujols would figure it out, it would just take a little time. Finally, it looks like the wait is over.