The dust hasn’t even settled on the city’s first Stanley Cup Championship in half a decade, but St. Louis is already preparing for its next great sporting memory. This time, it’s the return of a legend.
It is almost odd how little the world is talking about it. Perhaps it is a sad commentary on the Anaheim career of the unparalleled Albert Pujols. Perhaps it is just the reality of baseball’s cache in society. But even the likes of MLB Network aren’t focusing on it as much as you’d expect.
No one in St. Louis cares, though. Tonight, the Machine returns. Tonight, El Hombre returns. Tonight, for the first time since he walked off the field a World Series champion in 2011, the living, breathing, active legend of the Cardinals’ franchise will return to the stadium he helped build.
It’s not easy to put Pujols’ accomplishments in St. Louis in perspective. A rookie of the year, three-time MVP, a perennial all-star. He was all those things. But that doesn’t begin to capture it.
Pujols’ first 10 seasons in the Gateway City were the most consistent, most dominant decade by any hitter in baseball history. Never once did his batting average drop below .312 for the season. Never once did he play fewer than 140 games, hit fewer than 30 home runs, or collect fewer than 100 RBI. His nickname was “the Machine” for a reason. No human being ever found a way to slow him down.
But it twas more than the numbers. St. Louis has been absurdly blessed to see a bevy of extraordinary players in its time, and the numbers on the wall and the statues outside the stadium are a testament to it: Slaughter. Schoendienst. Gibson. Brock. Ozzie.
But there was a tier above even those greats. That tier was reserved for Stan “the Man” Musial, who earned his nickname and his gravitas by being an even better human being than he was a baseball player. For almost half a century, St. Louis believed that Musial’s greatness as both a citizen and a Cardinal could never be touched.
But then Pujols arrived and stepped into the Musial tier. An incredible person behind the incredible numbers, he started the Pujols Family Foundation, a charity for assisting children with Down Syndrome. That’s one of Pujols’ passions, as the daughter he adopted, Bella, has Down Syndrome herself. It’s an incredible organization, one that continues to run much of its business in the St. Louis area.
The Loudest Thing You’ll Ever Here
Pujols’ legacy in St. Louis is unrivaled for any player in any sport in the last thirty years. Legends like Kurt Warner, heroes like Patrick Maroon or David Freese, haven’t done nearly as much for as long as the Machine. He is an icon among icons in a die hard sports town.
And yet, St. Louis would admit that there was a time where Pujols’ return might not have been so rosy. Watching him leave hurt. It felt like a betrayal (even though it wasn’t). The sting didn’t wear off immediately.
So perhaps it’s fortuitous that it has been eight years since El Hombre departed. Because now, the city is eager to welcome him back with open arms.
So if you want to see one of the truly great moments in sports, tune in when Albert steps up to the plate the first time this weekend. Actually, scratch that: tune in when he steps up to the plate any time this weekend. The ovation he will receive from the Cardinal faithful will be the loudest and most celebratory thing you’ve ever heard. You won’t want to miss it.