The Angels stunned the baseball world Thursday by releasing Albert Pujols—well, technically designating him for assignment (don’t hold your breath waiting for the Cardinals or any other team to claim him off waivers)—ending the 41-year-old’s decade-long tenure with Anaheim and, quite possibly, his MLB career. While it’s obvious Pujols—baseball’s active leader in career hits, home runs, RBI and countless other stats we don’t have time to highlight here—isn’t the player he was in his St. Louis prime, the callous manner in which the Angels disposed of him still rubbed many the wrong way.
Even if the Halos were intent on starting Jared Walsh (who, admittedly, has been phenomenal in the early going) over Pujols at first base (major-league home-run leader Shohei Ohtani is entrenched at DH), what would the harm have been in keeping him around as a veteran mentor to some of the team’s younger stars? The Angels have to pay Pujols anyway, so why not get their money’s worth, giving the future first-ballot Hall-of-Famer a proper sendoff en route to his inevitable retirement?
It’s been leaked that Pujols, who is hitting a dismal .198 this year (though he does have five homers in 86 at-bats), had bristled at his lack of playing time, showing particular frustration at not being in the lineup Wednesday against Tampa Bay’s Ryan Yarbrough, who the three-time MVP has dominated throughout his career (6-for-9 with two homers and seven RBI). Regardless of why the Angels decided to pursue this outcome, many in the baseball community including former Red Sox ace Pedro Martinez, felt his longtime pal and fellow countryman deserved a better fate than Thursday’s abrupt ouster.
Well said, Pedro. For some, it might be hard to drum up much sympathy for the Dominican-born Pujols, a universally-beloved slugger earning a king’s ransom at an age when most players have long since hung up their cleats (he was in the final season of a 10-year, $240-million contract). Players understand the reality that baseball is a business and at times, a cruel one. For the less nostalgic among us, farewell tours like the ones afforded to Derek Jeter and Chipper Jones on their way out can be an overwrought spectacle, with teams shamelessly trotting out players well past their prime in an effort to drive up ticket sales. But isn’t that better than the alternative, leaving a living legend and one of the sport's greatest ambassadors out in the cold?