ST. LOUIS– We know Albert Pujols will be heading to Cooperstown eventually. We knew that before he left St. Louis to sign with the Angels. But know that Los Angeles has designated the legendary slugger for assignment, the question is if his baseball playing days are over or if there’s another stop left on his journey that will end in upstate New York someday. Statistically, he has very little left to accomplish. He sits in fifth place on the all-time home run list with 667, with Alex Rodriguez next on the list at 696. It’s unlikely that he would play anywhere enough this season to catch A-ROD, but 700 is a tantalizing milestone
Here are four possible destinations, in no particular order.
The Cardinals would certainly be the sentimental favorite, with the idea of finishing things up where they started. But in the National League, there is no Designated Hitter, except for interleague games, and you’re not going to dislodge Paul Goldschmidt at first base. The Cardinals already have one player in the twilight of his career on the bench in Matt Carpenter, so you would want to think long and hard about adding another player with heavy emotional value to the franchise who may not be producing to expectations. If this were at the end of the season when rosters expand, it could be an entirely different equation.
CHICAGO WHITE SOX
For all the offseason speculation that former Cardinals Manager Tony LaRussa, now the new manager on the south side in Chicago, could lure the likes of Yadier Molina or Adam Wainwright to the Windy City, what about a reunion with the player who was the linchpin in winning two World Series crowns? The White Sox have been beset by injuries as of late on offense, so there could be an opening for a team that’s been built to win now and happens to be in a three-way tie for first place in the American League Central.
One of those teams in that tie? The Royals, who have surprised early on this season, under Pujols’ former Cardinal teammate Mike Matheny. Does Pujols go truly full-circle and return to where his U.S. baseball career began where he grew up in Kansas City after immigrating from the Dominican Republic? He could serve as the sage veteran, helping a younger group of players trying to learn how to win.
There is nothing left to prove. He will go down as one of the best hitters ever. His legacy is secure. Injury, age and the Angels’ inability to find postseason success in the Pujols era will certainly make people wonder what else could have been had he stayed in St. Louis. There’s no question that the milestones he’s reached would have been more celebrated had he remained, instead of the relative anonymity found in all places, the Los Angeles media market. But retirement, it would seem, would free up even more time for Pujols and his wife Deidre to devote to the Pujols Family Foundation, which has raised up the lives of families impacted by Down Syndrome, and helped those in poverty in the Dominican Republic.
What we still don’t know yet is what his departure from LA means for his personal services contract which was supposed to extend 10 years. Answering that question will provide the answer to how soon Albert Pujols will rightly receive his Cardinals Hall of Fame Red Jacket and the statue that’s sure to follow.