“On December 10, 2011, [Albert] Pujols signed a ten-year deal with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, worth around $254 million.” (Quote source: Wikipedia.org) And nobody has seen him hit a home run since.
With the month of April now firmly in our past, we can take a look back at the opening to the season and clearly, lucidly state: what the hell has happened?
The best slugger in baseball–a man who some at as venerable an institution as ESPN were arguing as recently as last autumn was a candidate for the best hitter of all time – has spent the entire first month of 2012 putting up a giant chocolate doughnut at the plate.
His stats are unimpressive to say the least. He’s hitting a paltry .217. He has zero home runs. And the intangibles–the clubhouse leadership–he was supposed to bring have yet to materialize. To wit: the Angels are in dead last in their division. And if things continue as they are, the team is on pace to finish 63 games out of first.
All of this is amazing, no doubt about it. But what’s even more amazing is that Pujols’ slump was predicted.
By a novelist. In 2007.
“Fukú – generally a curse or doom of some kind… the fukú ain’t just ancient history, a ghost story from the past with no power to scare… everybody knew somebody who’d been eaten by a fukú… the shrimp that you ate today was the cramp that killed you tomorrow… which is why it’s important to remember fukú doesn’t always work like lightning. Sometimes it works patiently, drowning a person by degrees… but no matter now many turns and digressions it might take, it always gets its man.” (The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Junot Diaz for Riverhead Books, 2007).
These words were written by Domincan-American novelist Junot Diaz, and for his novel, he won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. But while Diaz was writing about a chubby kid in New Jersey and not a 9-time All-Star and 3-time MVP, the notion may hold just as true.
Because there are people out there, right or wrong–mostly living in St. Louis–who think that Pujols did something bad, very bad this off-season, something to tempt the fates. These irascible people loudly declared to all who would listen that Pujols’ decision to decamp to the sun-drenched shores of Southern California and leave his Missouri roots was exactly what was wrong with the state of baseball today. Perhaps, too, it was also precisely the type of choices that would incur the wrath of the fukú.
Which might explain Pujols’ season so far.
Look, it’s impossible to say for certain what’s the cause of Pujols’–and the Angels’–sub-par start. But at no point in his 12-year MLB career has Pujols ever finished a season averaging less than one homer every five games, and to date, he’s played 22 without hitting so much as one.
So all I’m saying is, sure, maybe Pujols is just dealing with garden-variety free agency or new-team blues.
But perhaps it’s also possible that, à la Ken Griffey Jr. or Pedro Martinez, Pujols’ leaving the town that loved and identified with him stirred up a little supernatural wrath. And if that’s the case, let’s just hope that Pujols is able to break the vicious cycle and return the hit machine he’s always previously been.
Because whether or not you’re an Angels fan, there’s no question that when he’s producing, Pujols can hit the ball as far as any man alive. And that is a wonderful thing to see.