Pujols says time to retire hasn't come yet

October 30th, 2021

For months, Dodgers first baseman said he wouldn’t announce his future plans until after the 2021 season. But now that the Dodgers have been eliminated from the postseason, the future Hall of Famer has a decision to make over the next few months.

Pujols, an impending free agent for the first time since 2011, can choose to retire after a historic 21-year career. Or he can decide to play at least another season in ‘22 at age 42. On Friday, Pujols was introduced as the newest member of the Leones del Escogido in the Dominican Winter League.

He wasn’t asked directly if he would definitively return next season, but the 41-year-old said he’s not yet ready to announce his retirement.

“I’ve always said that I’m going to retire when I feel it’s time,” Pujols said in Spanish. “I don’t think my time to retire has come. I don’t want to sit in my house next year, knowing that I can still keep playing.”

Pujols is 21 homers shy of becoming the fourth player in Major League history to reach the 700-homer club, joining Barry Bonds, Hank Aaron and Babe Ruth. He’s also 64 RBIs behind Ruth for second all-time.

Those are just two of the many lists Pujols could continue to climb if he returns for a 22nd season. He has already established himself as the best Dominican-born hitter. And despite being designated for assignment by the Angels in May, he proved that he can still be a productive player on a Major League team.

After signing a one-year deal with the Dodgers in May, Pujols became a key piece of the Los Angeles bench and clubhouse.

Pujols made most of his impact against lefties, hitting .303 with 10 homers against southpaws during the regular season. He continued that success in the postseason, recording multi-hit games against Giants left-hander Alex Wood and Braves ace Max Fried. Pujols also became the Dodgers’ best pinch-hitting option, recording a .378 average in 41 plate appearances.

Those abilities could open the door for Pujols to have plenty of suitors this offseason, including the Dodgers, who benefitted from his clubhouse presence.

“Since Day 1, he’s had a huge impact on all of us in there,” said Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner. “Just his leadership, his experience, work ethic. And the way he goes about his business, he sets an example for everyone.”

Pujols said the idea to play for a winter ball team in the Dominican Republic is something he talked about with his wife and family before Spring Training. It’s been a lifelong goal for him. It also gives him the chance to get closer to the number of at-bats he has grown accustomed to recording each year during his career. On Thursday, Escogido general manager José Gómez Frías completed a trade with Gigantes del Cibao to acquire Pujols’ rights. Pujols won’t make his debut until next week and is still unsure of how many games he’ll play.

“God’s timing is perfect,” Pujols said. “I’m super excited to be able to have the opportunity to play here. I’ve always wanted to play for the fans that have always supported me.”

Pujols was the No. 1 overall pick in the LIDOM rookie draft in 2002. As his career in the Majors began to take place, Pujols was never able to suit up for a team in the Dominican Republic. But fittingly, his debut next week will come with Escogido, the team he grew up watching while working at a sandwich stand inside Estadio Quisqueya Juan Marichal with his mom and stepfather.

He said he would often sneak out of work to watch a couple of innings, bringing police officers sandwiches in return. It’s where his baseball memories began. He might not be ready for those to end.

“This isn’t going to decide what I do with my career,” Pujols said. “When Albert Pujols gets tired of playing baseball, that’s it. I’m not going to go out there and embarrass myself. I’ve trained really hard and worked on my body to be able to have a good career. … I know what I can do.”