Legendary first baseman Albert Pujols confirmed Monday he will retire following the 2022 MLB season.
The 10-time All-Star brought his career full circle when he signed a one-year deal with the St. Louis Cardinals, where he spent his first 11 seasons. Beyond the sentimental pull, bringing Pujols back serves a practical purpose for St. Louis with MLB adopting the universal designated hitter.
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Albert Pujols and the Cardinals reportedly agreed to a one-year deal Sunday night, pending a physical.<br><br>"The Machine" spent the first 11 seasons of his career with St. Louis where he appeared in 9 All-Star Games and won 3 National League MVP Awards and 2 World Series titles. <a href="https://t.co/LV9FLiAeEM">pic.twitter.com/LV9FLiAeEM</a>
But the Cardinals can't go back in time to get the version of Pujols who won three MVPs over a span of five seasons. Between his time with the Los Angeles Angels and Los Angeles Dodgers in 2021, he finished with 17 home runs and a .433 slugging percentage.
The 42-year-old's decline began almost immediately after he signed with the Angels in 2012.
Pujols made just one All-Star team during his decade with the Angels. His OPS over 1,181 appearances in L.A. (.758) was nearly 300 points worse than his OPS over his first spell with the Cardinals (1.037), per Baseball Reference.
By the time the Angels released him midway through the 2021 season, the Dominican Republic native had a .198/.250/.372 slash line.
However, Pujols was basically a first-ballot Hall of Famer by the time he left St. Louis. Per Stathead, he compiled the most WAR (86.6) for any position player ever through the first 11 years of their career. His 445 homers also set the standard over that span as he hit 46 more than the next closest player, Eddie Mathews.
During his prime, Pujols wasn't just one of the best hitters in baseball—he also matched up favorably with the greatest of all time.
Baseball Reference's JAWS metric averages a player's career WAR together with what was their seven-year peak as a broad measure for their Hall of Fame worthiness. Pujols' JAWS score (80.6) is second among first basemen behind only Lou Gehrig (90.7).
Ken Griffey Jr. is the most recent example of how Hall of Fame voters are more than willing to look past a prolonged decline if a player put together a glittering resume otherwise.
Like Pujols, Griffey left the team with which he's most associated (the Seattle Mariners) after 11 years. Over that run, he was not only one of MLB's best players, but also a cultural phenomenon.
Griffey's time with the Cincinnati Reds isn't remembered all that fondly, though, and he had an even more forgettable reunion with the Mariners before retiring. However, that didn't stop him from almost becoming the first-ever unanimous inductee into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2016.
There's no doubt about whether Pujols is getting in on the first go-round; he will. The only question is how definitive his induction will be.
His announcement Monday means he'll get a farewell tour befitting a giant of his stature within the game.