Sick ‘em boys!…….It is unfortunate, but those are the words that came to mind this morning after yet another lackluster and slump deepening performance out of the $240M Angels first baseman. The truth can no longer be hidden, and the obvious can no longer be ignored.
It is May 5, 2012, 27 games into a 162 game season and Albert Pujols has the following stat line: .194 batting average, .237 on base percentage, .269 slugging percentage, and an equally putrid .505 OPS. Unless you live under a rock, you know he hasn’t hit a regular season homerun as an Angel yet. You probably also know he only has 5 RBI’s thus far. His WAR (FanGraphs) is an absolutely eye-popping -0.9. Folks, that means he is quite literally the worst player at his position in the game. He actually is causing more LOSSES than wins at this point in the season. If you’re not familiar with WAR, you should know now that a negative WAR in most cases gets you either cut, sent to the minors, or in the case of Mickey Hatcher, a job as the Angel hitting coach. Ok, maybe that last part wasn’t fair, but you should certainly be getting the picture. Albert Pujols STINKS right now.
Since signing with the Angels in December of 2011 Pujols has essentially done nothing on the baseball field to contribute to his team winning games. Of course you could consider being the worst player at his position as doing something, but I can guarantee you Arte Moreno and the rabid Angels fan base did not have that in mind when we celebrated his signing with champagne and a made-for-TV pep rally. In fact, what Arte and the fans did have in mind was more along the lines of Albert hitting somewhere in the neighborhood of his career stat lines, which read like this: .326 batting average, .418 on base percentage, .611 slugging percentage, and a remarkable 1.029 OPS. Albert posted the lowest WAR total of his career in 2011 with 4.9 but that number is still well above average and it is light years away from the NEGATIVE total he’s put up so far this year. Basically, Albert Pujols as an Angel is a shell of the player he was throughout his career in St. Louis. Granted, the season is only approximately 15% of the way complete, giving him another 85% of the season to get better, but it needs to start happening now. In fact, it should have already started to happen.
Now that we’ve discussed what Albert hasn’t done as an Angel, which is contribute in a positive fashion on the field, let’s talk about what he has done since donning the Halo uniform. It’s equally ugly. The guy clearly isn’t hitting, but what he is doing is getting mixed up in off the field issues that frankly can do nothing other than create spite within the fan base and quite possibly also with management. Let’s start with the “El Hombre” billboard campaign. For those of you who don’t know, Albert had a grievance with fans and media types in St. Louis calling him “El Hombre” because he felt it was disrespectful to Stan “The Man” Musial. Stan Musial is a hall of famer and arguably the most respected St. Louis Cardinal of all time. The loyal media and fan base lovingly nicknamed Pujols “El Hombre” as a gesture of credence and respect to his Latin heritage as well as his absurdly incredible numbers as a Cardinal. In a nut shell, they called him “El Hombre” because they loved him. He was their new “Man”. For whatever reason, to the confusion of many in St. Louis, Pujols never fully accepted the nickname and repeatedly attempted to distance himself from it. Of course if you live in Southern California you know that one of the first campaigns the Angels created to introduce Albert to the area was putting up multiple billboards with the words “El Hombre” next to a still shot of his beautiful swing throughout the greater LA area. With such a large and burgeoning Latin population and fan base in California, it made sense that his old nickname be relayed to his new fans. But guess what, Albert threw a hissy fit. He publicly recognized that he was not in support of the billboards being used to advertise his arrival and politely requested the Angels never use that campaign again and cease producing more billboards with the slogan “El Hombre” attached. He also made light of his displeasure that he was not approached or asked what his thoughts on the campaign were before it went mainstream.
This was the first recognizable moment of Albert expressing “I want things my way” that Angel fans and management had come to experience. It happened before he ever even took a swing in a meaningful game. The “I have arrived” moment coming long before the actual arrival of the Albert Pujols we’re used to seeing on Sportscenter and MLB highlight reels. The second episode came last week after Angels hitting coach Mickey Hatcher released a seemingly harmless quip regarding a statement Albert Pujols made in a closed-door team meeting. Hatcher essentially said that Pujols showed leadership in the meeting and that he stood up and ensured his teammates that his performance would soon turn positive and everything will be just fine in no time. When told after the ensuing game that Hatcher had shared Albert’s comments with the media, Pujols responded by saying “Mickey should have never shared that with you guys. That stuff needs to be private. That should never have got out to the media.” That is a pretty surly response from a guy whose coach just tried to build him up publicly.
So what gives? Where do Angels fans sit on this issue? Well, I believe everyone who routinely roots for the Angels was willing to give Pujols an extended pass on both issues mentioned above. Partly because his reputation as a down to earth superstar in St. Louis has preceded him, and in my opinion mainly because the euphoria we’ve experienced since his signing had not yet waned. Guess what Albert, those times they are a changin! It is one full month into a six month season and you haven’t shown up yet. Your shaved head, your intimidating scowl at the plate, and your number 5 jersey have all arrived. But your bat sure hasn’t. So far, the only thing us Angels fans have shared with your former fans in St. Louis is the sensitivity of your personality when it comes to the public portrayal of your image. That’s not exactly what we want to see by the way. They got to see you hit home runs and drive in countless runners on every night. We’ve seen you hit weak groundballs to the left side of the infield with a level of consistency that makes Wade Boggs’ old habit of eating fried chicken before games seem sporadic.
We might as well cut to the chase about where we’re at on this issue with Albert Pujols. The free pass has officially expired. We’ve done our part by buying his jersey and paraphernalia. Angel fans showed up to the season ticket office in droves after the Pujols signing paying large amounts of hard earned money to see a performance level worthy of being the second highest paid player of all time. We were willing to put up with some minor squabbles off the field in terms of ego and personality, but with only one simple caveat. Just HIT! So far, however, all we’ve seen is a guy who has publicly clashed with a team PR campaign and a coach without at all demonstrating the ability to help his club win baseball games.
Let me wrap this article up by welcoming Albert Pujols to Southern California with a fresh dose of reality. This is a “put up or shut up” town. We will embrace a player wholeheartedly once they’ve earned the right to our devotion by performing at a high level. At that point, we will also be willing to overlook puny squabbles off the field by simply watching greatness on the field. In the meantime, we expect humbleness. Don’t start acting like a superstar “diva” before putting up the numbers. We don’t care what Albert Pujols did in a St. Louis jersey anymore. That ship has sailed. It’s time to start earning our affection by performing at the level the player is both expected, and being paid to do. The Angels signed Albert Pujols to fill a power void in the middle of their lineup and made him filthy rich by doing so. He has not come close to performing up to his capabilities or expectations. The honeymoon is officially over. It’s time to start hitting, it’s time to start winning, and it is definitely time to stop whining.
Follow drew mumford jr on twitter @janjrtreshunt.