By all accounts, Albert Pujols is a great guy. He gives tons of money to charity, he runs a foundation, he gives freely of his time to young teammates. I respect that.
Pujols carries his faith the way I prefer; he’ll reference it when asked, but doesn’t come off as a televangelist. And he walks the walk, as mentioned above. I greatly respect that.
When Albert’s family moved here from the Dominican Republic, they did so to make a better life for themselves and future generations. The key to improving one’s status in life is education. At minimum, Albert needed a high school diploma to open up the possibility of a middle class job or have any hope of a secondary education.
In order to get that diploma, Albert needed to be below a certain age. With Dominican Republic birth certificates somewhere between non-existent and highly unreliable, the Pujols family had the ability to state to the school system whatever age required to get Albert a foothold in America. They did. I completely understand that.
It is the date they chose that has led to rampant speculation which persists to this day.
Albert was a prodigy on the baseball field. A man among boys, likely in both the literal and figurative sense. Despite putting up video game like numbers, scouts were concerned enough about his actual age to let him fall to the 402nd pick.
But a couple of years fudged by marking 19 down to 17 still meant Albert was entering his physical prime when he was drafted. The repercussions of that revision wouldn’t be felt, the numbers tell us, for about another 20 years. You know, where we are right now.
Albert had a Hall of Fame career with the Cardinals, who took him with that 402nd pick. His numbers placing him among the best right handed hitters of all time. He won multiple titles, MVPs, and secured a contract extension that rewarded him with over $100 million.
He had the career. He had the money in hand. If there was ever a time to come clean, it was then. But he remained silent.
In interviews, Albert has actually tripped up on several occasions. He’s given his real age away in the past, and double downed on it this spring in an interview with Yahoo Sports.
“I actually hit it off Octavio Dotel, I think I told you that,” Pujols said. “I was about about 12, 13, almost 13 years old.”
“And we go back, you know, 28 years later, and here I am.”
28 + 13 = 41 for those of you scoring at home.
That comment was followed up this:
“Well, Dotel, I believe he’s like three or four years older than me.” Pujols said. “He was in the league above me, and it was actually like an intrasquad game.”
Dotel turns 45 on November 15th. That math leads right back to Albert being 41, maybe a tad older. Speculation by scouts is one thing, but these are Albert’s own words, words that have not been clarified since he podcasted this April.
Why does that matter now? Arte Moreno and the Angels signed Albert Pujols to a 10 contract under the expectation they were paying him through his age 41 season. Based on Albert’s own math, they already have and the deal has three years and over $90 million remaining.
Countless career arcs show players decline quickly once they hit their late 30s. A few bad years at the end of a contract would be one thing, but if the man they signed was due to decline at the beginning of the deal, an entirely different matter.
And that brings us to the conundrum:
There's a good chance that this man, so lauded for his character, so driven by his faith, is likely taking tens of millions of dollars under false pretenses. Yes, I share that faith and know that we all sin, especially me. I know I probably wouldn’t care if he was still hitting .300. But nobody in their 40s hits .300 without help (cough David Ortiz). Hitting well the last half of the contract wasn’t going to happen, because Albert was too old when he signed the deal for this to be the case.
And it’s not like coming clean back in 2006 would’ve hurt Pujols. Several Dominican born players have come clean. Vladimir Guerrero was given two birthday cakes by the Angels after confessing to another year on Earth. Octavio Dotel revealed his true age and encouraged others to do likewise.
The bottom line is that Albert still would have received a big money extension from the Cardinals. He still would have made enough money to ensure several generations of Pujols a quality life. And he still would have been a sought after free agent.
On top of all that, Albert would have had a clean slate. The ability to stop measuring everything said in an interview, to stop having it dissected each time he makes an age reference. He could look himself in the mirror, look his kids in the eye, and tell them “it’s OK to make a mistake, but own it and make it right.” But he didn’t. Instead, he chased the money.
Fangraphs recently did a phenomenal job discussing possible angles the Angels could possibly take to try and void his contract, but that would make the situation worse. A rich owner suing a rich ballplayer over contract fraud that probably can’t be proven is a public relations disaster of epic proportions. And as they pointed out, since the age suspicions have been so pronounced for so long, the team signing him should have weighed that before offering the contract.
I want to like Albert, I really do. And I appreciate his work in the community. But I’m having a hard time here.
Albert Pujols was signed to play through his age 41 season. He almost certainly has done so. The honorable thing would be to walk away and leave the ill-gotten last three years of his contract on the table.
It won’t happen. But I sure would respect it if he did.