Of the Angels’ newly acquired first baseman, Jeff Pearlman wrote last spring, “to watch Albert Pujols interact with the St. Louis diehards is to watch a prototypical spoiled, arrogant 21st century sports star at his absolute worst.” Today at CNN.com, Pearlman considers Pujols’ departure from St. Louis a legit excuse for Cards fans, “to speak the truth…no longer do you have to mindlessly utter the Cardinal company lines about all of Pujols’ charity work and family life and what a wonderful person he is.’ It’s a fascinating take on Pujols’ relationship with St. Louis, though one Pearlman already described in very similar detail several months ago.
I’ve witnessed few professional athletes who show greater disrespect and outright disdain for loyalists than Pujols. He is a man who, during spring training, walks from station to station with his head down; who responds to “Albert, we love you!” not with a smile or a nod, but with cold nothingness. When people call his name, he almost never gazes up. When people ask for an autograph, he doesn’t even bother with a “Not now” or “Try me later.” Instead, he turns to devices that men such as Barry Bonds and Jeff Kent perfected in the recent decades — the steel-faced, how-dare-you-even-talk-to-me, ignore-the-world two-step.
It’s not a problem that Pujols doesn’t say much — neither does Derek Jeter. It’s not that Pujols is intense — Jimmy Rollins is certainly right there with him. No, what rubs so many people wrongly is his frostiness. Or, as one longtime Cardinals usher told me last March, “How about looking up at people when they talk to you? How about acknowledging that they exist?”
Now, Pujols — perhaps the most revered Cardinal since Stan Musial — has pulled a LeBron James II, abandoning his adopted hometown when bigger bucks and a sniff of Hollywood came calling. Whereas once he had a chance to stand alongside Ted Williams and Mickey Mantle and George Brett and Cal Ripken Jr. as legends who spent their entire careers with one franchise, now he is but a nomad — richer, without question, but shockingly smaller in stature.