TEMPE, Ariz. -- At the age of 36 and about to begin the fifth season of his 10-year contract with the Angels, Albert Pujols is at ease.Pujols is among the first players to check in at the Angels' Spring Training facility each day. He spars with the media, chats with
TEMPE, Ariz. -- At the age of 36 and about to begin the fifth season of his 10-year contract with the Angels, Albert Pujols is at ease.
Pujols is among the first players to check in at the Angels' Spring Training facility each day. He spars with the media, chats with his teammates and talks with the coaching staff.
It is his comfort zone. It is the ballpark. And it is baseball.
Life is good for Pujols. He is in the middle of a $240 million contract that is still tied for the fifth largest in Major League history, and he's relatively healthy again after battling through injuries in two of the four seasons since he left the Cardinals for the Angels.
Pujols has only one regret.
"We have only been to the postseason once," he said of his four years with the Halos.
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The Angels won the American League West in 2014. But that is the only season in Pujols' time that the Halos have advanced to the postseason, and they were swept in three games in the AL Division Series by the eventual AL champion Royals. In his 11 years in St. Louis, the Cards were in the postseason seven times. That is the bottom line for success and failure in baseball.
"I came here to do what I can do and help this team win," Pujols said. "I don't feel pressure for myself. All I can do is bust my butt. All I can do is go out every day and play as hard as I can play. And all that matters is how we do as a team, if we win, not how any of us do as individuals."
There were more than a few eyebrows raised back on Dec. 8, 2011, when the Angels stole center stage at baseball's annual Winter Meetings, signing Pujols to that decade-long deal even though he was only 39 days shy of his 31st birthday. It was a deal driven by owner Arte Moreno, who wanted to make a splash and saw signing the best hitter in baseball as the best way to do that.
Moreno had visions of another October like 2002, when the franchise won the only World Series in its history. And he saw Pujols as the foundation for that.
It hasn't happened yet. But it hasn't been Pujols' fault.
Oh, critics can criticize. It's what they do.
No, Pujols' numbers haven't quite been what they were during his St. Louis career, but the roster depth with the Halos hasn't been the same, either.
In an honest evaluation, it is hard to point fingers at Pujols, who has had two seasons marred by injuries. Despite developing plantar fasciitis in his left foot in Spring Training 2013, he played through it until suffering a partial tear on July 26.
Last season, Pujols injured his left hamstring on April 29, but he found a way to deal with the pain. Soreness in his right arch in late August left him in a DH role during September and resulted in surgery in November. Pujols' only disappointment was that the Angels finished one game back of the Astros in a bid for the final AL Wild Card spot.
"I felt even at 75 percent I could help the team win," he said. "I sacrifice my body, but I had the surgery after the season and I'll be ready [for Opening Day]."
Pujols hasn't had the flash in Anaheim that he had in St. Louis, where he was a 10-time All-Star, won three National League MVP Awards and hit 30 or more home runs in all 11 seasons, including more than 40 six times. He hit .299 or better each season, too.
The one significant difference with the Halos has been a .266 average, 62 points below Pujols' composite mark in St. Louis. But the power and run production have been there, and while the walks are down, he has not had a significant increase in his strikeouts.
Despite that 2013 season, when Pujols was limited to 99 games and failed to have 600-plus plate appearances for the only time in his career, his composite numbers during his four Angels seasons are tied in the Majors for 49th in games played (569), 10th in home runs (115) and eighth in RBI (369). His 274 strikeouts -- an average of 63.5 per season -- rank 90th among the 105 players who have appeared in at least 500 games during the past four years.
That hasn't quieted the criticism, but Pujols has the ability to ignore it.
"Fans have been very good to me," he said. "Maybe two, three, four percent are going to be the other way, but not most of them. I don't get distracted. My dad taught me before I judge anyone else to look at myself. I see things I feel I can do better.
"That is what I am concerned with, not things I can't control. I want to be a part of the reason the Angels win. It's what matters to me. That is why were are here today, getting ready for a season with the goal of being champions."
Pujols has never lost sight of that goal.
Tracy Ringolsby is a national columnist for MLB.com.