Several certainties come to mind immediately when it comes to Albert Pujols as he embarks on the 2021 season. It is potentially his final one in an Angels uniform, or any uniform, for that matter.
Only four other men have hit more home runs than Pujols. When he retires, he will do so with at least three Most Valuable Player awards to his name. He enters the 2021 season just 84 hits shy of reaching a top ten spot all-time in that category. When his name does finally appear on the Hall of Fame ballot, he will be elected and inducted the following summer.
Is it really the end?
What is not known yet is whether the 21st season in the majors for the man affectionately known as “The Machine” will be the final year of his illustrious playing career. Entering the week, Pujols has remained noncommittal on the subject of his playing future beyond this campaign.
Monday, as the first baseman (turned designated hitter) was settling into his tenth Spring Training in Tempe, Arizona with Anaheim, his wife, Deidre Pujols, posted on her Instagram account the following:
“Today is the first day of the last season of one of the most remarkable careers in sports! I’m talking about my husband (Pujols) who since the time he was a child would eat, sleep, and breath (sic) this sport. I have had the privilege to walk out 23 years of his baseball journey and it is with such a full heart that I speak a blessing over him as he finishes this good race!”
She continued, praising her husband’s work ethic and his sacrifices made during his extended playing career.
ICYMI – The Instagram post’s heard round the world (or at least Orange County.) 1/2 pic.twitter.com/01DgPLV9gc
— Halo Life ⚾ (@_HaloLife) February 23, 2021
Immediately, social media and various press outlets jumped into action, deciphering the message and cranking out headlines “Pujols says this his final season.”
The response forced Mrs. Pujols to edit the same post with a lead statement in capital letters that read, “this is not an official statement of Pujols retirement, I’m just trying to send my husband… into the 2021 season.”
Tuesday, neither the player, manager Joe Maddon, or the Angels would discuss the subject with anything other than “he and the team are focused on getting prepared for this season.”
The contract comes to a close
The 41-year-old former All-Star is entering the final year of his record 10-year, $240 million contract, signed in the prime of his career prior to the 2011 season. He will earn $30 million this season before once again being eligible for free agency.
While the Dominican-born slugger’s Angels contract has resulted in 217 home runs and 771 runs batted in (both top-five in franchise history), they are a far cry from the .328 hitter that hit 445 homers during 11 seasons in St. Louis with the Cardinals.
Pujols’ contract with Los Angeles includes a $10 million personal services contract after his playing contract expires. Whether that kicks into effect after 2021 or after his final MLB game remains to be seen.
The future Hall of Famer has a few attainable milestones before him. His individual performance, health, and the play of the Angels team could play a role in his future plans. Sitting at 662 career home runs, “The Machine” is just 38 longballs shy of being the fourth player in MLB history to reach 700 home runs.
If he finishes his current contract in October within 10-15 home runs of the milestone, it could be very tempting for the veteran to seek to return for a 22nd season in an attempt to reach it.
Of course, optimistic Angels fans can hope for a 38-plus home run 2021 season and World Series title as the ideally scripted finish for the legendary hitter. That would be the Hollywood ending for one of the true good guys of the game. For now, the sports world have to wait and see how the story unfolds in the coming months.