Albert Pujols is going back to where it all started — to the organization with which he carved out a Hall of Fame career, and to the city that still adores him.
On Sunday night, Pujols and the St. Louis Cardinals agreed to terms on a one-year contract for the 2022 season, sources confirmed to ESPN, giving the 42-year-old first baseman the opportunity to bookend his Hall of Fame career in storybook fashion.
Once he completes his physical, Pujols will officially return to the Cardinals organization with which he starred through his first 11 seasons in the major leagues, capturing three National League MVP awards, claiming two World Series championships and compiling nine All-Star Game appearances.
The deal is worth $2.5 million, sources said, and will grant Pujols a part-time role in which he will seemingly start at designated hitter against lefties and otherwise serve as a late-game pinch-hitter. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch and The Athletic first reported the news.
Pujols will be reunited with longtime teammates Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright, two lifelong Cardinals who elevated the franchise right along with him. There’s a strong chance all three of them could retire together at season’s end.
With the Cardinals, Pujols put together arguably the greatest 10-year run in baseball history, batting .331/.426/.625 with 408 home runs and 1,230 RBIs from 2001 to 2010. Pujols fell just one batting-average point short and one RBI short of combining a .300 batting average with 30 home runs and 100 RBIs for the 11th consecutive year in 2011, but he helped lead the Cardinals to another championship nonetheless.
In the offseason, however, Pujols left the Cardinals to sign a 10-year, $240 million contract with the Los Angeles Angels and was never able to replicate his success. He put up good numbers in 2012 but was hampered by plantar fasciitis in 2013 and emerged from that a lesser player. Pujols compiled 99 home runs from 2014 to 2016, but his slash line fell to .262/.318/.468. From 2017 to 2020, he accumulated minus-1.2 Baseball-Reference wins above replacement. And in May of 2021, with just over four months remaining in his contract, the Angels released him.
Pujols signed with the cross-town Los Angeles Dodgers less than a week later and found new life. Teammates affectionately called him “Tio Albert” and raved about his presence in the clubhouse. He was signed as a much-needed, experienced pinch-hitter who would start when the matchups favored it. And he thrived in the role, posting a .953 OPS against lefties.
As the season was coming to an end, Pujols — who has compiled 3,301 hits, 679 home runs and 2,150 RBIs in 21 major league seasons — was still not ruling out the possibility of continuing to play.
“I’m not chasing anything,” Pujols told ESPN in late September. “I just love the game of baseball. And I feel like I walk out on my terms, not on somebody else’s terms.”
Pujols worked out mostly in the Dominican Republic to stay in shape for the possibility of an opportunity this offseason. The universal DH, part of the collective bargaining agreement that wasn’t ratified until March 10, helped carve the path. Paul Goldschmidt is entrenched as the Cardinals’ everyday first baseman, but Pujols can share DH duties with the left-handed-hitting Corey Dickerson.
In nine-plus seasons with the Angels, Pujols made one playoff appearance and reached his greatest individual milestones, including 500 homers, 600 homers and 3,000 hits. But his favorite moment, perhaps, was a weekend trip in late June of 2019.
The Angels were back in St. Louis, playing at Busch Stadium for the first time since Pujols left. Pujols received a standing ovation before every one of his 12 plate appearances. On his sixth, he homered into the left-field bullpen, sending a sold-out crowd into a frenzy and igniting a curtain call.
In the years that followed, as his contract was winding down, many in Pujols’ inner circle entertained the idea of him finishing his career in St. Louis. They could think of no better send-off. Pujols would often laugh it off, but those who knew him could sense his desire to finish where it all began.
Now, it’s a reality.
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