By Jose M. Romero
For Fox Deportes
Watching the highlight of Albert Pujols deliver his first Albert-Bomb (WWE reference!) of the season, the first thought I had wasn’t that Pujols had finally hit his first home run as a Los Angeles Angel.
It was this: Is Pujols really only 32 years old?
It seems like he’s been in the major leagues forever. Which is why, chances are, he’s going to be OK in the long run, even if he was only hitting .190 through 30 games.
I’ve never been a fan of Pujols. He could be the nicest guy in the world – with all of his charitable endeavors and the connection he made with fans in St. Louis for all those years – but he was a Cardinal, and that team has broken my heart in the past.
In some twisted way, I think it’s funny that he’s struggling. Cardinal fans who felt spurned by Pujols when he passed on their contract offer to sign for 10 years and $240 million with the Angels, probably think it’s funny, too.
And the Angels, even with their super-cool owner Arte Moreno and all of their big-name, high-priced talent, will never be L.A.’s team. They play in Anaheim. They’re No. 2 because they don’t have the tradition and history, and that still matters to sports fans.
Which is why Pujols will be fine, despite his horrible batting slump to open the season. As the biggest free agent signing in the offseason, the spotlight will be on him as long as he’s struggling. Fans and media will follow his progress. But when he starts hitting – and there’s no reason to think he won’t – he’ll be an Angel, and that isn’t the same as being a Dodger or a Yankee or a Red Sox player.
The Angels are in a tough spot. They were 13-18 on May 9, 7 ½ games out of first place in the AL West. Their new slugger is struggling. They have thousands of new season ticket holders who are expecting big things. The way the Texas Rangers are playing, it’s almost safe to say no team will catch them. They were built to win and simply aren’t.
But Pujols can only get better, and so can the Angels. It takes time for a guy who played in the National League for all those years to get used to American League pitching. He’s a career .326 hitter who has never struck out more times than he’s walked in 11 big-league seasons.
Have the years caught up to Pujols? Did he peak, and did the decline of his career come upon him so suddenly? Not likely. Pujols probably won’t have MVP numbers, or even top-20 MVP numbers, but he’s still a threat on any team.
Luckily for Pujols and the Angels, it’s still very early in the season. And luckily for them, the Dodgers are grabbing most of the headlines in Southern California with their great start to the season, a new ownership group with Magic Johnson as its face and the perhaps the next Pujols, slugging outfielder Matt Kemp.
At least that situation is taking some heat off the underachieving Pujols and the Angels. But as we move into summer, Pujols should heat up with the bat. You don’t swing the bat like that for 11 seasons and just go into the tank.
Pujols is a .329 career hitter in June, .341 in August and .339 in September and early October. Give him time.