The Los Angeles/California/Anaheim Angels have played almost 60 seasons of baseball. As the baseball world is suspended due to circumstances outside its control, it is time to look back at the history of this organization. There have been many talented players to put on the uniform, and we at Crashing the Pearly Gates wish to highlight the best who have ever represented the Angels. Without further ado, here we go!
#42 – Albert Pujols
Yes, Pujols. Sure, he has never been the Machine in Anaheim. Yes, even in his best seasons with the Angels, it seemed that he was underperforming. Yes, his worst seasons were so bad that he was the worst in baseball; and yes, he might be too slow for baseball. Despite all of these factors, he still deserves to be on this list.
Pujols was signed to the biggest contract in franchise history (at the time), and his signing was instrumental in the market push by the Angels. He was by far the best FA available in years, and that big splash helped Arte Moreno get a massive deal for TV rights done. The fans were ecstatic. This was to be the signing to make up for Adrian Beltre getting away, for the Vernon Wells trade, for wasting prime Jered Weaver and Dan Haren seasons in 2011, and the countless other transgressions we lay at the feet of ownership. The playoffs were to be a thing again!
Alas, that did not happen. Everyone knew the back end of the contract would hurt, but the early part of it did not go well either. Pujols was decent, good even, but he was not The Machine that people expected. He didn’t even put up numbers close to the ones he did in his last and worst year in St. Louis.
If we ignore all of the expectations, the money, the clout, and instead look at the production, what did Pujols really do to start his Angels career? Well, from 2012-2015, Pujols was actually pretty good. In those four seasons, he averaged 3.3 bWAR, and that serviceable figure takes into account his injury-plagued 2013 campaign. He provided a 126 OPS+, averaged 33 home runs every 162 games, OPS’d .804, never struck out even 75 times, got MVP votes twice, and made the 2015 All-Star game.
Of those, 2012 was his best season overall, where he compiled 4.8 bWAR, 30 home runs, 50 doubles, had an OPS+ of 138, an OPS of .859, slugged .516 and even had 8 stolen bases that year (wow, those days seem long gone). He batted (a not bad) .285 and played a 1B defense that was just slightly below average. Those 80 extra base hits were the 6th-most in a single season in franchise history. Pujols didn’t even lead the team in GIDP that season!
Unfortunately, the next four seasons were not so good. Injuries piled up, Pujols got slower, hit into more double plays, and got old. Even hitting home runs was hard for him, and he reached hitting 30 just once, his average dipping to 28 per 162 games. Even in 2016, the best of the last four seasons, was just alright. He was terrible at 1B, and his OPS+ dipped to 116. That is not bad, but not as good as even the four years prior. The production simply fell off a cliff.
But even in this low point, Pujols’s accumulation totals count for something. His 500th and 600th home runs were hit as an Angel, and those are moments can’t be taken away. The same goes for his 3,000th hit and 2,000th RBI. People care about these stats; baseball cares about these stats. To do it as an Angel really puts the team in record books, even if the fans didn’t enjoy the chase that much. There is a big sign with Pujols home runs on the all time list in the outfield at Angel Stadium, many bobbleheads were given away, and his Hall of Fame career has moments on it that are Angels moments. For a franchise that just finally got someone in the HOF plaque room with an Angels cap on, these things matter.
There are only 12 players in Angels history with 1,000 hits. Pujols is 9th on the list. There are only 5 players in Angels history with 200 home runs, and Pujols is the 5th. 9 Players with 200 doubles. Pujols is the 9th. 7 players with 400 extra base hits. Pujols is 6th. 11 have played a thousand games, and Pujols is 9th. He’s 5th in RBI, and despite all the chances he’s garnered hitting behind Mike Trout, that still does mean something.
He hits home runs, and hitting 30 three times is rare for Angels. Only 5 players have done it in Angels history. There aren’t many home run hitters of his caliber in this franchise. Nor the longevity. Yet he accomplished the feat within his first 5 seasons.
Pujols has had moments on that were enjoyable. Besides the milestones, there was this bow and arrow revenge and this moment making Puig look foolish. That time he hit a walk-off home run in the 19th inning vs Boston. Or that other walk-off home run. Then there is that walk-off double. And that other walk-off double. That walk-off single. Or that other walk-off single. Or that other, other walk-off single. Or that walk-off sac fly. Point is, Pujols is clutch, and even in a bad year he can still do these things.
2013 could have been better. 2014 could have resulted in a playoff run that wasn’t a sweep. 2015 was homer-happy. 2016 was maybe just bad luck on his part. If he had retired after 2017 and his 600th home run year, after $126 million and 6 years, perhaps we would have seen this contract in a more positive light. We could enjoy an all-time great. Even though we do feel that he should retire, there is one thing that makes him even playing next year worth it: Mike Trout.
Mike Trout has said before that Pujols has been a great mentor for him, explaining how to deal with being the best in baseball, and from our point of view, what fans think about you when you leave the team you had your best years with. There is no evidence for this, but between the mentoring, the teaching, and the first hand witnessing of the fans being upset at Pujols for not living up as the Machine especially compared to how St. Louis treated him on his return, Mike Trout is as good as he is and perhaps has stayed in Anaheim partly because of Pujols.
Yes, this is basically spitballing, and we may never know what truly happened, but this is what it seems like. And even if Pujols is only just 5% the reason why Trout is here for the 2020’s, I am appreciative. For all these reasons, all the controversy, he checks in at a well-deserved #42 on this list.