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Commentary: Albert Pujols was not the star the Angels wanted him to be

Angels' Albert Pujols holds a bat in the dugout before the start of a game.
Angels’ Albert Pujols waits in the dugout before the start of a game against the Tampa Bay Rays on Sept. 14, 2019.
(Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press)

In the end, the Angels cut a guy batting .198. No big deal.

And that, unfortunately, is the legacy of Albert Pujols with the Angels: No big deal.

He got a big deal: 10 years and $240 million, and 4,000 fans chanting and cheering at his introductory news conference.

“I’m a marketing guy,” Angels owner Arte Moreno said that day. “I just thought, ‘What does it mean to our fans to bring a player of this caliber here?’ ”

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In the end, it meant almost nothing.

Albert Pujols was designated for assignment by the Angels. The future Hall of Famer was in the last season of a 10-year, $240-million contract.

Pujols arrived in Anaheim as the best player in baseball, yet he never was the best player on the Angels. Mark Trumbo was the Angels’ best player in Pujols’ first month with the team, and then Mike Trout showed up.

Trout awes. Shohei Ohtani dazzles. Anthony Rendon stars. David Fletcher is a fan favorite.

Pujols has been practically invisible, and not just this year. In Pujols’ decade in Anaheim, the Angels won zero postseason games.

In 11 years with the St. Louis Cardinals, Pujols was “The Machine,” winner of three MVP awards and two World Series championships.

In St. Louis, he never finished outside the top 10 in MVP voting. In Anaheim, he never finished inside the top 10.

The national reaction Thursday: ALBERT PUJOLS, HALL OF FAMER.

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Albert Pujols wears his new jersey after an introductory news conference Dec. 10, 2011, at Angel Stadium.
(Alex Gallardo / Associated Press)

The local reaction Thursday: Jared Walsh, a 39th-round draft pick, is better than Pujols anyway. Walsh showed it last year, and on merit Pujols might have lost his job years ago had the Angels’ farm system been able to develop a decent first baseman between Trumbo and Walsh. Pujols has not been a league-average hitter since 2016.

Pujols has been an asset in the community, and a tremendous mentor to Trout. Just last week, Pujols acknowledged — and not for the first time — that Trout had surpassed him.

“A player like Trout comes every 50 years in this game,” Pujols said. “We just witness greatness every day. I’m blessed that I was out in the front seat, hitting behind him for a while, and now wearing the same uniform and taking the field every day.”

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The hit wasn’t his most majestic, more well placed than well struck.

Perhaps some team takes a chance on Pujols as a bench player, if he is willing to be one. Angels President John Carpino said Pujols still considers himself an everyday first baseman.

Angels Manager Joe Maddon acknowledged Thursday he had promised Pujols a run of playing time. Pujols was frustrated Wednesday when he was not in the lineup, and Carpino and Angels general manager Perry Minasian met with him after the game to let him know the Angels were moving on without him.

Injuries hampered Pujols for much of his time in Anaheim, but there was more. His loss of speed, and the advent of the shift, meant that just about every ground ball was an out. Pitchers threw harder, and they did not need to be as careful: With the Cardinals he had 271 more walks than strikeouts; with the Angels he had 254 more strikeouts than walks.

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It is trendy today to say how the Angels have failed to build a winner around Trout, who is playing under his third manager and fourth general manager.

The decline of Albert Pujols.
(Tim Hubbard / Los Angeles Times)

But the mind wanders back to 2013, when the Angels staged a news conference atop a mountain in Arizona.

Trout was there, flanked by Pujols and the Angels’ newest star, Josh Hamilton. Moreno had spent $365 million on Pujols and Hamilton.

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In 2014, the Angels were swept by Kansas City in the lone postseason appearance of Trout’s career. Hamilton finished that season hitless in the playoffs and homerless in his final 55 at-bats. After the playoff finale, he could not say what the Angels should expect from him in future seasons.

“Who knows?” he said. “What do you think, I’m a fortune teller?”

No one knew that Hamilton would not finish out his contract with the Angels. No one knew that Pujols would not finish out his contract with the Angels. No one knew that, seven years later, Trout’s postseason resume still would be limited to one hit.

Angels manager Joe Madden, left, celebrates a win with Albert Pujols
Albert Pujols, right, celebrates with Angels manager Joe Madden after a win over the Texas Rangers on Sept. 19, 2020.
(Ashley Landis / Associated Press)

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Albert Pujols smiles and exchanges high fives as he is greeted in the dugout after hitting a home run.
Albert Pujols is greeted in the Angels dugout after hitting a home run against the Texas Rangers on April 26.
(Richard W. Rodriguez / Associated Press)

Moreno tried. You can win an NBA championship with two or three stars, but not a World Series championship.

The list of Hall of Famers who played their best years elsewhere and prolonged their careers in Anaheim includes Bert Blyleven, Rickey Henderson, Reggie Jackson, Eddie Murray, Frank Robinson, Don Sutton and Dave Winfield — and Pujols.

To the extent Angels fans might remember Pujols, that would be how.

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Murray was 41 when he got to the Angels, Jackson 35, the rest somewhere in between. Pujols was 31 when he signed with the Angels, in a big deal that turned out to be a lost decade.


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