TEMPE, Ariz. – For the first time since he was perhaps 5 years old, Albert Pujols figures, he walked around a baseball field Wednesday with no bat, no glove, not even a uniform.
And, man, did it feel good.
“People keep asking me if I miss it,’’ Pujols tells USA TODAY Sports in a 20-minute conversation at the Los Angeles Angels spring-training complex. “I don’t miss a freakin’ thing about it. I really don’t. I’ve been playing baseball for 38 years of my life.
“Seriously, I don’t miss it, dude.
“It was fun. I had a great career.
“But I am burned out.
If Pujols, 43, wanted, he could have been back with the St. Louis Cardinals, or several other teams who reached out asking if he wanted to play another season.
The way he performed in the second half last season, hitting .323 with 18 homers, 48 RBI with a 1.103 OPS, who could blame teams for wanting him back for one last ride before he’s enshrined into the Hall of Fame?
If Pujols kept playing, he perhaps could be baseball’s home-run king. He has 703 home runs, just 11 shy of Babe Ruth, with Hank Aaron (755 homers) and Barry Bonds (763) in sight.
“Can I still do it? Of course,’’ Pujols says. “But I don’t want it. What, chase Babe Ruth next year? Two years later, chase Aaron and then Barry. I’d be an old man chasing people. I never played this game to break records.
“I am done. I love the game, but I had enough. You got to ask yourself, when is enough?’’
Albert Pujols: ‘There are no perfect endings
Pujols announced to the world last spring that it would be his final season, and never once, not even during his torrid streak, the playoffs, or a single moment in the off-season, did he have second thoughts.
“I didn’t want to have that pressure of having the year I had last year,’’ Pujols said, “and then go through my head, ‘Should I do it, or should I not?’ People know when I make a decision, it’s a final decision.
“During the course of the year, people kept asking, ‘Are you sure? Are you sure?’ Yes, I was sure. I had enough.’’
Besides, Pujols says, the way his career ended, how was he ever going to top it?
“There are no perfect endings,’’ he says, “but really, I think I had one. Last year was the best thing that happened to me in my career besides winning the World Series.
“I had no idea how many people were rooting for me, seriously.’’
Oh, only the entire baseball world, watching Pujols become only the fourth member in baseball’s most elite fraternity: the 700-home run club.
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“I think everybody in baseball was pulling for him,” says Angels three-time MVP Mike Trout. “What he did was pretty special. You might never see it again.’’
Pujols, unceremoniously released by the Angels on May 6, 2021, resuscitated his career with the Los Angeles Dodgers that season, returning home to St. Louis in 2022 for a farewell tour last season.
If it was supposed to be little more than a sentimental and ceremonial tour, Pujols didn’t get the message. Cardinals manager Oli Marmol brought Pujols into his office after the All-Star break, told him they were going to lean on him, and Pujols put on a show for the ages, leading the Cardinals back to the postseason.
“I go back to St. Louis, I have a great year, I hit my 700th homer at Dodger Stadium where they gave me a second chance, we make the playoffs ….’’ Pujols said. “Buddy, you can’t beat that. It was unreal.
“My whole career was unreal.’’
What’s Albert Pujols doing at spring training?
Pujols, who signed a 10-year, $250 million contract with the Angels in 2012, is back with the franchise simply because he has a personal services contract, paying him $1 million a year for the next 10 years.
“I remember when that contract was so big,’’ Pujols says. “It’s like [pocket] change now. You’re probably going to see [Shohei] Ohtani get $500 million. He’s going to blow everyone out with that deal.’’
Pujols, whose job title is Angels special assistant, says he’ll be in camp until Sunday, travel to the Angels’ Dominican Republic complex, and really do anything the Angels need.
He’s just not going to manage. Or coach. Or work in the front office. Or be on a schedule.
“I played so freakin’ long,’’ Pujols says, “right now I just want to enjoy my retirement. I’m going to wait the next one, or two, or three years before I decide to do anything. I don’t have a schedule I need to follow. I’m on my own schedule.
“I worked so hard in this game to have a successful career, and now I’m going to get to do things in life I never had a chance to do.’’
Albert Pujols picks up golf, basketball this offseason
Pujols has had a busy offseason since he retired. Earlier this month, he played in the WM Phoenix Open pro-am tournament in Scottsdale, Arizona, and then attended the Super Bowl sitting in Jay-Z’s suite rooting for the Kansas City Chiefs.
He telephoned an NBA official to see if he could get a ticket to the NBA All-Star Game to celebrate his 13-year-old-son’s birthday, and the next thing he knew, he’s playing in the NBA celebrity basketball game.
“Oh my God, my back and knees,’’ Pujols says. “I hadn’t been doing anything since the season ended. That was a lot of running.
“I’m still sore.’’
Pujols was hoping to meet Michael Jordan, but he was away celebrating his 60th birthday, but was stunned to find out that NBA All-Star MVP Jayson Tatum was one of his biggest fans.
“I had no idea he was from St. Louis,’’ Pujols said, “so that was really cool. Man, 55 points, that’s crazy.’’
Will Albert Pujols help coach the Dominican team in the WBC?
Pujols will also be traveling to spend time with his former teammate and best friend, Yadier Molina, who’s managing the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic. Molina asked him if he would be his bench coach.
“I’m like, ‘No, dude,’’’ Pujols says. “‘I’m retired.’ Yadi is unreal. Our playoffs are over, and he’s managing winter ball in Venezuela three days later. Like, ‘Dude, are you bored out of your mind. Didn’t you have enough baseball?’ Relax. Enjoy your life. Do something.’’’
Pujols shakes his head, and keeps laughing.
Let everyone else have the daily grind, he’s got places to go, people to meet, sights to see.
The summer of Albert Pujols
Pujols is scheduled to play in the Corales Puntacana PGA Pro-Am in the Dominican Republic in March, PGA tournaments in Dallas and Lake Tahoe later this summer, and a Peyton Manning celebrity golf tournament, too.
He always wanted to see the Masters, so, yes, he plans to be in Augusta, Georgia, in April.
He also went to Paris and London in December, but will expand his European vacation this summer, visiting France and Monaco in June.
And there are several Formula 1 events, including one in Monaco, he wants to check out, too.
Albert Pujols’ life after baseball
“There are guys that don’t prepare for life after baseball,’’ Pujols says. “All they know is baseball. They struggle. And they struggle bad.
“I’ve got other things I want to do in life.’’
But in time, give him a few years, you may want to circle back with Pujols.
He just might be ready to join a team near you.
“Who knows,’’ Pujols says, “obviously I think I have enough to offer. If the opportunity is right, whether its managing or something else, you never know.
“I’m going to leave every door open, and if the opportunity comes, and it’s the right place, maybe I’ll do it.
“I love this game, but when you do something for so long, you need to take time, and if you don’t take time, you’re going to regret it.’’
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