Top 10 Highlights of Albert Pujols' Career with the St. Louis Cardinals
This week’s three-game series against the Los Angeles Angels will mark the first time that the Cardinals will take the field against the man once deemed to be the organization’s successor to Stan Musial.
His departure sent Cardinals Nation reeling as fans wondered how the team would get by without its superstar first baseman. The answer to that question has been quite obvious: just fine.
The Cardinals weathered not only the loss of Pujols, but the absence of iconic manager Tony La Russa and longtime pitching coach Dave Duncan as well.
No one could have predicted that in the year after those three losses and during the rookie season of manager Mike Matheny, the Cardinals would come within one win of their second World Series appearance in as many seasons.
Despite the fact that there were seriously hurt feelings on both sides when Pujols left, the chance to play against him for the first time should bring about a sense of nostalgia.
Sure, most were upset to see him go, but at the same time, we should remember that during the Pujols era, the Cardinals saw more amazing feats accomplished than some organizations see in a lifetime.
Following are 10 of the top highlights from Pujols' career as a member of the St. Louis Cardinals.
10. The Move to First Base
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
It’s been long enough now that some people won’t even remember, but Pujols did not begin his career in St. Louis as a first baseman.
The 402nd overall pick in the 1999 draft was chosen as a third baseman, with little belief that he had the kind of power to justify a first base roster spot.
In 2003, after already showing his offensive prowess, Pujols was named as the Cardinals' starting first baseman.
An admirable defender as well, Pujols won a pair of Gold Gloves at the position and became one of baseball’s most consistent fielders at first base.
9. 9-Time All-Star
An interesting pairing back in 2003. Pujols chats with Mike Scioscia during batting practice before the 2003 All-Star Game.
Matthew Stockman/Getty Images
During his career as a Cardinal, Albert Pujols made the All-Star roster in all but two seasons.
He made his first appearance at an MLB All-Star Game during his rookie season, and aside from 2002, he made quite the habit of visiting the Midsummer Classic.
His numbers may keep him from making the roster in 2013, but as a Cardinal, he was a virtual shoo-in from year to year.
8. Rookie Season
Few rookie seasons in the history of baseball have been as monumental as that of Albert Pujols.
The 2001 season was magical for Cardinals fans, as they watched Mark McGwire fade from greatness and Pujols begin his rocket ride to superstardom.
Pujols batted .329/.403/.610 with 37 home runs and 130 RBI. Not too shabby for a 13th-round pick.
He was still learning the patience at the plate that carried him for so many years, as is illustrated though his lower walk and higher strikeout totals. With all of his accomplishments, it wasn’t even noticeable in 2001.
He capped the season off with the National League Rookie of the Year Award.
7. 3-Home Run World Series Game
Rob Carr/Getty Images
At the time, no one knew for sure that the 2011 World Series would be the end of Pujols’ reign in St. Louis.
If it had to be, his three-home run performance in Game 3 of the World Series against the Texas Rangers was a nice note to end it on.
That Saturday night, Pujols accomplished a World Series feat that only Babe Ruth and Reggie Jackson had accomplished before him. He finished the game 5-for-6 with three home runs, two singles and six RBI. That game was the final flash of Pujols’ greatness Cardinals fans would be able to appreciate.
Regardless of what happened after the season, that was a truly amazing performance.
6. 2006 World Series
Jamie Squire/Getty Images
It took two tries, but in 2006, Pujols earned his first World Series ring.
By then, Pujols was a valuable team leader who helped his team climb into the playoffs and carry a strong winning streak all the way to the trophy.
The Cardinals beat the white-hot Detroit Tigers in only five games to earn their first championship since 1982.
The 2006 season was monumental not just because of the championship, but also because it was the team’s first season in its new stadium.
5. “The” Home Run
Brian Bahr/Getty Images
It’s difficult to call yourself a Cardinals fan if you don’t remember the home run.
With the Houston Astros leading the 2005 NLCS three games to one, closer Brad Lidge was ready to put the Cardinals' season to an end. With two outs in the ninth inning, Pujols blasted a three-run home run that may still be in the air.
This home run is still mentioned every time the Cardinals and Astros meet for a series, and with good reason. Of course, it didn’t change the outcome of the series, but it kept the Cardinals alive for one more day.
This home run was vintage Pujols. It showed just how truly dangerous he could be in a clutch situation.
He showed it on plenty of other occasions, but this was one of the most unforgettable.
4. 2008 Season
Future teammates Pujols and Lance Berkman chat it up at the 2008 All-Star Game.
Nick Laham/Getty Images
While many doubted whether Pujols would ever match his 2003 season, in 2008, he showed that people shouldn’t be so quick to count him out.
That year, he hit .357/.462/.653 with 47 home runs, 135 RBI, 115 walks and only 54 strikeouts.
It was arguably his best career season and, at least at this point, has been the beginning of a steady downslide in his numbers. He hasn’t batted .300 since 2010, nor has he crossed the 40-home run plateau, scored more than 105 runs or drawn more than 62 walks.
High walk totals kept Pujols' OBP astronomically high throughout most of his career, but as the walks have dwindled, so has the OBP.
Regardless, Pujols’ accomplishments during his time in St. Louis were once-in-a-generation-style feats.
3. 2011 World Series Champion
Ed Szczepanski/Getty Images
In 2011, the Cardinals had the ultimate sendoff for the longtime idol and franchise cornerstone. It was only fitting that in his final season wearing the birds on the bat, the Cardinals would hoist a trophy at the end.
The Comeback Cardinals, as they were nicknamed, returned from a 10.5-game deficit in August to secure a wild-card berth and then turn that into a world championship.
Pujols, along with numerous other players, held a pivotal role in that comeback.
Despite the hard feelings after he left via free agency, Cardinals fans should be grateful for the success they had when he was their anchor at first base.
2. 3-Time NL MVP
Jamie Squire/Getty Images
If anyone doubts Pujols’ importance to the Cardinals organizations during his tenure, they need only look at the hardware he earned.
Aside from two Hank Aaron Awards, six Silver Sluggers and the Roberto Clemente Award, there's also the three times he was named the National League’s Most Valuable Player.
Over the three seasons when he won the NL MVP, Pujols batted .338 with 125 home runs and 368 RBI.
In addition, he finished in the top five in seven of his eight remaining seasons with the Cardinals.
1. Selected as Greatest Player of the Decade
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images
In 2009, Albert Pujols received well-deserved recognition from the baseball world when he was named the Greatest Player of the Decade by ESPN.com.
Other players came along and put up impressive numbers, but none did it with the level of consistency that Pujols showed when he took the field.
For 10 consecutive seasons, he batted over .300 and had more than 100 RBI and 30 home runs. Those streaks have since ended and he is wearing a different jersey, but the legacy of Albert Pujols will forever be a part of Cardinals history.