Why LA was perfect place for Pujols' milestone

September 25th, 2022

This story was excerpted from Juan Toribio's Dodgers Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

LOS ANGELES -- Everything about Albert Pujols hitting his 700th career home run on Friday night felt perfect.

It was fitting that Pujols was wearing a Cardinals jersey at the time of the historic accomplishment. At the end of his career, Pujols’ No. 5 will undoubtedly be retired in St. Louis, and it would be shocking if they didn’t ultimately build him a statue.

Pujols hitting his 700th home run at Busch Stadium might’ve made the moment better. It would’ve been a great moment for the home fans to embrace Pujols, one of the best players in franchise history.

But it was destined to happen at Dodger Stadium, a place that holds a special place to Pujols, and against a Dodgers organization that helped the future Hall of Famer fall in love with baseball once again. It’s not outrageous to think that Pujols wouldn’t have played this season if the Dodgers didn’t give him a second chance last season after the Angels designated him for assignment in May.

“My joy, pretty much, of this game came back last year [while playing for the Dodgers] and being in the postseason,” Pujols said. “It’s pretty special with the Dodgers fans here, and I get both sides of this. [The Dodgers] get to enjoy this and I get to do it with a Cardinals uniform, which makes it even more special.”

Just over a year ago, Pujols didn’t know what was next for him. The Angels had just let him go. It was his first time being a free agent in more than a decade. But then came a Zoom call with Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman and manager Dave Roberts. 

The Dodgers needed help on the bench. They couldn’t promise Pujols consistent playing time. They couldn’t even guarantee that this would work and that he would be on the roster for the remainder of the season. 

It was a risky and unique conversation to have with a future Hall of Famer. If it didn’t work with Pujols, the Dodgers would have essentially ended his illustrious career. Pujols, however, appreciated the Dodgers’ honesty and believed there was more left in the tank. 

“We talked through all of that with him,” Friedman said. “We weren’t sure how it was going to play out. We walked in totally honest on how things will play out, how things could play out, here are the range of possibilities and we’ll communicate with you at every step. … He said all the right things and backed it up at every turn and had a real impact on a lot of our young guys.” 

Pujols impacted nearly every player in the Dodgers’ clubhouse. Cody Bellinger, Max Muncy and even Phil Bickford, who gave up No. 700, credited Pujols for being a first-class teammate. But perhaps nobody reaped the benefits of Pujols’ leadership more than Julio Urías, who grew up playing as Pujols in every video game as a kid in Mexico. 

“He meant a lot, honestly,” Urías said in Spanish. “It’s unbelievable that baseball allowed me to be on a team with him, share a clubhouse with him and get a bunch of advice. He’s one of the best people I’ve ever shared a clubhouse with.”

Urías said he joked with Pujols before Friday’s game. The Mexican left-hander told Pujols he would’ve grooved a pair of pitches if he was on the mound. Urías didn’t have to, though, as Pujols showed his dominance on Friday, hitting No. 699 and 700 on the same night. 

And it happened in front of two organizations that owe a lot to the future Hall of Famer.