Albert Pujols told reporters ahead of last week’s National League wild-card series that he contemplated retiring in June. A feel-good story off the field, his reunion with the St. Louis Cardinals wasn’t going as planned on the field.
The future Hall of Famer was playing sparingly and batting a meager .198 with just four home runs, still 17 shy of the 700 mark for his career. He decided to stick with it, tweaked his swing in early July and was given an honorary spot on the NL All-Star roster, as well as a spot in the Home Run Derby.
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“When you have good people around you and they are encouraging you and you realize that God has opened so many doors for you, man, it puts things back into perspective,” Pujols told MLB.com. “I decided, ‘I’m going to stick with it.’ I knew sooner or later it was going to come and turn around for me, because it can’t be like it was all year long.”
Things did indeed turn around and he became one of the best hitters in the major leagues during the second half of the season, hitting .314 the rest of the way with 20 home runs — passing Alex Rodriguez for fourth all-time and ending with 703 career home runs. In the process, he also passed Babe Ruth to become second all-time in runs batted in (2,218).
— St. Louis Cardinals (@Cardinals) October 4, 2022
Pujols is all alone in 2nd all-time! pic.twitter.com/SM3YICqgZc
— St. Louis Cardinals (@Cardinals) October 4, 2022
Throughout the season, even as he inched closer to the 700 career home-run mark and the career RBI total, he said his decision to return to St. Louis was never motivated by a chase to set any personal records or a need for personal validation. Instead, it was solely to help the Cardinals win a 12th World Series championship, and to do so alongside catcher Yadier Molina, one of his best friends, a longtime teammate and another likely future Hall of Famer who also announced he would retire at the end of the 2022 season.
As Pujols started to look like the former version of himself, momentum toward a 12th World Series title started to build. The Cardinals surged past the Milwaukee Brewers and won the NL Central Division title, due in large part to Pujols’ second half, and optimism was high that the Cardinals would make a deep postseason run in what would be the final season for Pujols and Molina.
It wasn’t meant to be, however, as the Philadelphia Phillies swept the Cardinals 2-0 in the best-of-three series on Saturday. It was an abrupt ending to what many fans hoped would be a monthlong farewell that would perhaps be capped off by a few celebrations along the way.
As he has done much of his career and often this year, Pujols gave glory to God following the game.
“All the glory goes to the Lord, not just me,” he said. “He opened the door for me to come here. All I did, even through my struggles, was just stay faithful and strong and continue to trust my process that it might work out. I waited for my opportunity. That came and I just took advantage and did whatever I had to do to help this organization win.”
Albert final interview pic.twitter.com/Ljed9PqAaE
— Frank Cusumano (@Frank_Cusumano) October 9, 2022
One of the best hitters to ever play baseball, Pujols has seen his share of ups and downs the past two seasons. Hitting just .198 with five home runs and 12 RBIs, he was released by the Los Angeles Angels midseason last year in the final year of a 10-year contract he signed after leading the Cardinals to the 2011 World Series championship.
He finished the season with the Los Angeles Dodgers, where he found slightly more success, hitting .254 with 12 home runs and 38 RBIs over 85 games. At age 41, though, his future was uncertain and there were rumors he would retire in the offseason.
The addition of the designated hitter in the National League, and a need on the Cardinals bench for a veteran presence and an occasional power bat against left-handed pitchers made it possible for him to return for his final season where it all started.
Speaking at Christian Day in St. Louis in July, Pujols spoke about how grateful he was to be able to finish his career in St. Louis, specifically thanking President of Baseball Operations John Mozeliak and first-year manager Oliver Marmol for conceiving the idea.
“This is a great opportunity that God has given me to finish my career,” Pujols said. “This is where everything started for me. When Mo called me and Oli, I couldn’t believe it. The next day I was signing and in a plane going down to spring training. Just excited to be here.”
Thank you @PujolsFive for 12 incredible seasons, and an unforgettable final year! pic.twitter.com/NdINeWpTGG
— St. Louis Cardinals (@Cardinals) October 9, 2022
Reflecting back on when things seemed bleak, he shared how much it meant for him to hit No. 700. The joy was evident as he rounded the bases and celebrated with teammates in the dugout.
“It did hit me really hard, because I had felt that weight to deliver for everyone,” Pujols told MLB.com. “God has given me this talent and the joy for the game, and I was emotional because there were so many people supporting me and pushing me. They are people who love me and have always supported my career, and I wanted to do it for them.”
The short postseason stint was far from what he hoped he’d leave with, and he told reporters following Sunday’s game that it will take a couple months for it to fully sink in that it’s really over, but he added that he has no regrets.
“I can say that, for 23 years, I have felt some great relationships in this game and I am thankful to God for giving me this opportunity,” Pujols said.
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