Albert has done everything asked of him as a baseball player. He has achieved the highest of heights, yet he still plays second fiddle to the American Hate/Love/Hate relationship with Barry Bonds. This year that will change. American baseball fans in 2005 will fully recognize and appreciate Albert's talents, celebrate his work ethic, and become thankful they were alive during the course of his career.
Albert Pujols is already statistically one of the game's historical elite. He has rightly been compared with the greats of the game – Williams, DiMaggio, Cobb – dare I say - Musial. His first four years are unequalled in the game in terms of offensive output. He is a hitting machine of remarkable maturity for one so young. His work ethic should stand as an example to all who aspire to be better in whatever field they choose.
Known for his hitting, Cardinal fans know also that in the very foreseeable future, Albert Pujols will be a Gold Glove first baseman. He is an aggressive, smart base runner who presents a challenge to napping outfielders. He is disciplined, coachable, and a role model. So why does Albert Pujols continue to labor in relative national obscurity?
The media obsession with Barry Bonds and his scandals, public cold shoulders, and home run chase have cast an unfair shadow over Pujols and his accomplishments. I don't seek to take anything away from Bonds' career numbers, but this clearly flawed national persona has taken the spotlight off the best emerging story in baseball. With Bonds on the sidelines, Pujols could very well become the new media darling – a handsome, rugged, talkative, responsible, decent human being who happens to be the most feared hitter of the new millennium.
I do not wish injury on any athlete. As one who has had six surgeries on my right knee, I can even empathize with Bonds up to a point. Where I jump off that train, though, is his short temper with media and fans and his apparent disregard for the betterment of the game that has given him everything he could possibly want in life. Why in heaven's name should Barry Bonds be so miserable and unfulfilled? Bonds' injury and self-inflicted misfortunes open the door for King Albert the First.
In 2005, Albert Pujols will emerge as the anti-Bonds, a transcendence that will correct a great inequity. If his spring training numbers translate into the regular season as they probably will, Albert will be untouchable statistically by any other player in organized baseball. His good humor and accessibility will only enhance the media interest in him. This is most likely the year Pujols will take his rightful and deserved place on the national stage as the best of the best – no longer the "emerging" star, but finally and rightly being granted his own place in the constellation of Babe the Big Bopper.
As his career continues on its unswerving journey toward Cooperstown, our own #5 will be a good and positive story for major league baseball. AP has unfairly been a second class citizen in relation to Bonds. No longer. Albert Pujols – feared hitter, defensive whiz, family man – will see his star-status in full ascent. I hope he enjoys the ride without losing those qualities the sum of which are all the good things he has become. He is a Cardinal treasure, and we will soon have to share him with everyone else.
You can write to Rex Duncan at firstname.lastname@example.org