‘It’s really special’; Albert Pujols returns home to Cardinals

Albert Pujols at a press conference announcing his return to the Cardinals.
Albert Pujols at a press conference announcing his return to the Cardinals.
Published: Mar. 27, 2022 at 11:40 PM CDT|Updated: Mar. 28, 2022 at 4:08 PM CDT
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ST. LOUIS, Mo. (KMOV) - The Cardinals have officially reunited with franchise icon Albert Pujols.

The team officially announced the move at a Monday afternoon press conference in which Pujols, Cardinals manager Oli Marmol, president of baseball operations John Mozeliak and owner Bill DeWitt all spoke of their excitement in seeing No. 5 back in Cardinal red.

“I can just imagine what Opening Day will be like in St. Louis this year,” DeWitt said. “It’s always a big celebration, but even more so this coming season... we’re very excited. Seeing him in a Cardinals uniform is really special.”

Pujols spent his first 11 seasons with the Cardinals, winning the NL Rookie of the Year Award in 2001 and NL MVP Awards in 2005, 2008 and 2009. He left St. Louis after the 2011 season, signing as a free agent with the Los Angeles Angels. When the Angels released him in May 2021, he signed with the Dodgers for the remainder of the season. The Dodgers primarily used Pujols against left-handed pitchers, and he was successful in that role. In 2021, Pujols compiled a .294/.336/.603 batting line against lefties, good for 13 home runs in 146 plate appearances. Pujols’ .939 OPS against LHP last season was a better mark than his lifetime OPS of .919 overall.

So essentially, watching Albert Pujols against LHP in 2021 was like watching, well, vintage Albert Pujols. Pujols’ numbers against right-handed pitching was far worse last season, as he put together a .180 batting average and .500 OPS against righties in 2021.

But considering the presence of left-handed-hitting DH candidates Corey Dickerson and Lars Nootbaar, the Cardinals may not need Pujols to take many at-bats against righties. The way the roster is constructed, the Cardinals just hope to see Pujols carry over last year’s success against lefties into his final MLB season. If he can do it, he’d make for more than a sentimental signing by St. Louis--Pujols could actually fill a valuable role as a right-handed-hitting power threat and designated hitter option.

Detractors of the Cardinals’ move to sign Pujols would argue that his success against lefties last season was an outlier compared to his career norms. And it’s true, Pujols has not traditionally been the split-oriented hitter that he was in 2021. But the Cardinals saw enough in his performance to consider his acumen in the batter’s box a benefit to the club--in addition, of course, to the wealth of experience and information that he brings to the clubhouse.

“I’m really excited and pumped up and really looking forward to trying to help this ball club as much as I can,” Pujols said. “I think I’m here for a reason. They believe that I can still play this game.”

Pujols said he never ruled out a return to the place where he started his career and put up Hall-of-Fame numbers. After so many years away, Pujols at one point remarked that it felt like he never even left St. Louis, considering the time he still spent in town related to various charity events and appearances.

“There is always hope,” Pujols said. “You never close the door, I don’t think the organization closed the door on me and I never closed the door on the organization either. It’s a great opportunity.”

Pujols reunites with two other franchise icons, catcher Yadier Molina and pitcher Adam Wainwright. While Molina has previously said 2022 will be his last season, Wainwright has not said whether 2022 will be his final campaign. The three are the only remaining Cardinals players from the 2006 and 2011 World Series-winning teams.

“It’s really special, having my little brother Yadi and also Waino, I think it’s the perfect ending for all three,” Pujols said. “But I think the best thing for us is to stay focused on what we want, this is not about me, this is not about Yadi or Waino, this is about the Cardinals organization and trying to win a championship for the City of St. Louis.”