Overtime: A Machine on its Last Legs


Is Albert Pujols better off retiring considering his progressive decline in Los Angeles? (Courtesy of Flickr)

On the night of Sept. 19, I found myself in front of my laptop, working somewhat scrupulously on class assignments. Always looking for a reason to procrastinate, I turned my television on. I began by checking in on FOX’s Thursday Night Football between the Jacksonville Jaguars and Tennessee Titans. About 12 minutes into watching Jaguars-Titans, I quickly surmised that viewing this penalty-ridden, sloppily played game actually made me want to get my work done.

I quickly looked through the menu guide for another sporting event. Fortunately, the New York Yankees were not done playing yet so I tuned in to the top of the 9th inning. They were beating the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim comfortably, 9–1. Yet, closer Aroldis Chapman was on the mound to finish out the Yankees 100th win of the season. Chapman struck out the last Angels batter swinging to seal the win for the Bronx Bombers.

Although I am always a Pollyanna for a Yankees win, I found myself feeling empathetic towards that last batter of the game because, at one point, that batter was the best player in baseball and dubbed “The Machine.” That would be first baseman and future Hall of Famer Albert Pujols. Watching his steady decline in Los Angeles leaves me pondering the thought that he may be better off retiring after this season than continuing to play baseball.

However, Pujols does not agree with my notion of considering possible retirement. Recently, he told Jeff Fletcher of the Orange County Register that the passion to play baseball is still there. “I think the way I train and my dedication and my discipline I have in this game, if I am healthy, I can play until I’m 50,” said Pujols.

Pujols went on to describe this past season as “the most fun I had because I was healthy and I was able to do things I wasn’t able to do in the past.”

After finishing the 2018 season with just 19 home runs and 64 RBI’s, Pujols had what many considered a bounce back season. Pujols hit .245 this past year, along with 23 home runs and 93 runs batted in (RBI). The problem with this optimism is that it is not warranted if you consider Pujols career since he’s gotten to Los Angeles.

In his eight seasons with the Angels, his batting average is .258. Pujols has averaged 26 home runs and 93 RBI’s during that time. Most Major League Baseball players would be happily content to put up numbers like these. But for a player as talented as Pujols, these numbers are pedestrian at best if you consider the numbers he used to put up.

Before signing with Los Angeles in 2012, Pujols spent the first 11 years of his career playing for the St. Louis Cardinals from 2001-2011. And in that time, he truly earned the nickname of “The Machine.”

Pujols had a stellar .328 batting average with a .617 slugging percentage behind it. Add to that the fact he averaged 40 homers and 121 RBI’s. The man was virtually unstoppable at the plate, able to hit for power and contact. What might be even more impressive is that Pujols only averaged 64 strikeouts in St. Louis, making him one of the hardest outs for opposing pitchers in baseball.

Unfortunately, the player I just described in St. Louis is merely a shell of himself now in the City of Angels. While I applaud his desire to continue playing, the reality is, he will be 40 years of age come next season. He still has two years remaining on the 10-year, $240 million contract he signed with the Angels in 2011. Pujols has maintained that the money left on his contract is not a motivation for him to keep playing.

Honestly, I believe him. In an era where steroids were still running rampant in the early to mid 2000’s, Pujols was never connected or linked to any investigation into steroid use. He has been a consummate professional on and off the field. With all the money Pujols has already made, I highly doubt money is a huge factor for him as his career begins to come to a close.

I recall a famous ESPN commercial in which the company employees John Anderson and Steve Levy approach Pujols about his nickname. Pujols came off as not being a fan of being called The Machine, saying at one point, “I’m not a machine, I’m just Albert.”

At that time, he was obviously much more machine than man with the three MVP’s and two World Series he won in St. Louis. Now, his words in the commercial ring much louder. He is not a machine anymore. He is just Albert. A sure-fire Hall of Famer whose last years has not been an indication of how great he was once.

There is no guarantee Pujols will finish out these last two years on a high note. Recent history tells you he will only continue to diminish in overall production. I truthfully believe he has nothing left to prove. No machine lasts forever. And unfortunately, neither do superstar athletes.