Winter 2022 magazine

Albert Pujols thankful to God for setting up storybook ending with St. Louis Cardinals

As soon as the St. Louis Cardinals gave Albert Pujols the chance to end his career where it began, the 42-year-old knew where he would be spending his final season. Other teams offered more money and more playing time. He just didn’t care.

“I took obviously a lot less money and less promises,’’ Pujols said Saturday, “but this is where I want to be. This is where I wanted to finish my last year, and thank God He allowed me to have this door open to come here to finish my career.”

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It was supposed to be a nostalgic reunion with longtime teammates Adam Wainwright and Yadier Molina, a chance to make one more postseason run. Pujols could provide another experienced voice in the locker room, maybe make a couple more memories for Cardinals fans to cherish.

But something has happened since the All-Star break. Pujols turned back the clock 15 years and became the best hitter in baseball. Since July 23, he is hitting .453 with eight home runs and 18 RBIs in 19 games. His on-base percentage is exactly .500, and the Cardinals have won 17 of their last 21 games.

All of a sudden, Pujols is second all-time in total bases and just seven home runs away from 700 for his career. Only Barry Bonds (762), Hank Aaron (755) and Babe Ruth (714) have accomplished that feat.

Hours after being named co-NL Player of the Week alongside teammate and fellow believer Paul Goldschmidt, Pujols hit No. 693 off Drew Smyly in a 1-0 victory over the Chicago Cubs on Monday night. Smyly was the 449th different pitcher Pujols has taken deep, tying him with Barry Bonds for the all-time record.

Pujols went 4 for 4 with two home runs in a 16-7 win over the Arizona Diamondbacks on Saturday, and got another hit off the bench Sunday. Unsurprisingly, no player had ever collected four hits and went yard twice in the same game at age 42 or older.

Speaking to USA Today before Saturday’s game, Pujols admitted he was unsure what this season would look like and said he is simply trying to honor God by making the most of the gifts he’s been blessed with.

“I feel really good to tell you the truth,’’ he said. “I really didn’t know what I could do, but I know I put in a lot of hard work with the gift the Lord has given me. I didn’t know what the year would look like, but what I could control was dedication and hard work.”

That dedication and hard work are a huge reason he’s been able to play 22 big league seasons. Pujols wasted no time announcing his arrival in the majors, winning Rookie of the Year in 2001 and finishing in the top three in MVP voting the following five seasons. He won the award in 2005, ’08 and ’09.

The 11-time All-Star joined former MLB pitcher Scott Linebrink on Sports Spectrum’s “Get in the Game” podcast last year and discussed the role his faith played in keeping him grounded during his rapid rise to stardom.

“Fame and success came really, really quick to me, but I think one thing that kept me humble was my relationship with God — knowing that I’d never forget where I was coming from,” Pujols said on the podcast. “Knowing that through Him, I was able to serve others and to care about others and not about myself. It’s beautiful. It’s been a beautiful journey.”

As a way to serve others, he and his wife, Deidre, have run the Pujols Family Foundation since 2005. The nonprofit organization aims to “honor God and strengthen families through works, deeds and examples,” according to its website.

Pujols’ remarkable hot streak this season has prompted speculation that he may come back next year if he falls just short of 700 home runs. He quickly dismissed that idea over the weekend and confirmed this season will be his last.

“No matter what happens, buddy,’’ he told USA Today’s Bob Nightengale, “I wouldn’t change a thing. I’ve had an unbelievable career. How blessed am I?’’

With the Cardinals holding a five-game lead in the NL Central, Pujols is likely to have the team’s 41 remaining regular-season games and the playoffs to make the conversation irrelevant. They continue a set of five games in four days against the Chicago Cubs with a doubleheader Tuesday.

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