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Volume 2, Issue 64: The One About Seeing Albert Pujols Back at Busch

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Illustration for article titled Volume 2, Issue 64: The One About Seeing Albert Pujols Back at Busch
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George Carlin died on June 22, 2008, at the age of 71.

June 22, 2019

Albert Pujols was just dropped from the heavens, instantly a part of our lives from then on until forever. Today, to be a sports fan is to be a perpetual futurist: Your job is not just to watch your team play but also to know who will someday be playing for them, to follow the minor leagues and the draft in professional sports and obsess over recruiting in collegiate athletics. By the time, say, a Tommy Edman shows up in a Cardinals uniform, or Kofi Cockburn in an Illini jersey, I’m long aware of them, from their statistics at lower levels to YouTube mix tapes of their best moments. Nobody comes out of nowhere anymore.

But Albert Pujols came out of nowhere. I’d never heard his name once when he showed up at Cardinals spring training in March 2001, a random 21-year-old with a scatalogical last name and only one year of minor league ball. No one had talked about him as some great prospect; no one talked about him at all. And then he just spent a whole spring hitting the shit of every baseball thrown at him. As memorably documented by Joe Posnanski a couple of years ago, Cardinals manager Tony La Russa spent most of the spring trying to talk himself out of promoting Pujols to the major league squad, and he only relented because Bobby Bonilla pulled his hamstring, leaving a roster spot open. Pujols was going to make the team.

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Illustration for article titled Volume 2, Issue 64: The One About Seeing Albert Pujols Back at Busch



My father and I discussed this over the phone in obsessive detail at the time. After a tumultuous and wholly unsuccessful first year in New York City, I had spent November and December of 2000 back in Mattoon, a 25-year-old deadbeat, staying at my cousin Denny’s place, watching Illinois basketball games with my dad and trying to figure out what I was going to do. (You can read an in-real-time document of this period in an old Life As A Loser column. I hope my writing style has improved in the last 19 years.) In March 2001, I’d was working temp jobs, stuffing envelopes for a theater company one day, answering phones for Spanish language television networks the next, just two months removed from spending a large percentage of my worldly income on a one-way bus ticket from Effingham, Illinois, to the Port Authority, trying to start my life over and get it a little closer to right this time. I missed home desperately, and I missed the Cardinals as much as anything. And suddenly Ted Williams just showed up for us out of nowhere. Albert Pujols was impossibly young and perfect and unbelievable, and he was ours. The first time Dad saw him play in person, he called me the next day. “He’s the real deal,” he said. “I think he’s already the best player I’ve ever seen.”

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Illustration for article titled Volume 2, Issue 64: The One About Seeing Albert Pujols Back at Busch


Pujols quickly became Albert Pujols, one of the best hitters of all time and the centerpiece of more than a decade of Cardinals baseball. (I would see him for the first time at Shea Stadium a year later. Pujols homered of course.) My life, everybody’s life, would change dramatically after Pujols’ debut in April 2001. From the time he played his first game for St. Louis until his final one in October 2011, I would finally get a real, non-temp job, watch the world explode on multiple occasions, get my first passport and leave the country for the first time, start The Black Table with my closest friends, catch my big break with Deadspin, write four books, get engaged twice, get married once, have a son, watch the world explode some more. Every day during that time, Albert Pujols was a constant, relentlessly consistent presence in my life. Life was dissolving and re-assembling itself on a daily basis. But Albert Pujols just went out there and smashed baseballs, like nothing had changed, that everything was in its right place.

I’ve only met Pujols once. I had a friend who was a writer for “Late Show With David Letterman,” and he invited me to come watch them tape a segment with Pujols and Dave where they would hit baseballs on the street into Times Square. Backstage, as they were setting up, I turned the corner after coming out of the bathroom and bumped right into him. I apologized and said, “Excuse me.” He said, “No problem.” We walked on in opposite directions down the hall.

That was enough for me. I don’t need it to get more personal than that. That’s not what this was ever about.

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Illustration for article titled Volume 2, Issue 64: The One About Seeing Albert Pujols Back at Busch


I always feared Pujols would leave St. Louis. (I wrote about it many, many times.) St. Louis fans always did; as I noted in my piece on Pujols this week for MLB.com, he actually received two standing ovations during Game Six of the 2011 World Series, the David Freese Game, because Cardinals fans thought it would be his last at-bat for the team. But he officially did leave on December 8, 2011, when he signed with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, the end of that era of his life, and mine. My first son William had just been born 17 days before Pujols left, and I was far too sleep-deprived and crazed to even wrap my mind around the ramifications. This was helpful. Tip: When your favorite player leaves your favorite team, it’s best to have a two-week-old kid in the house to keep you otherwise occupied. For a month, I wasn’t entirely sure I hadn’t dreamed that he left.

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Illustration for article titled Volume 2, Issue 64: The One About Seeing Albert Pujols Back at Busch


The last eight years have not been great for Albert on the field. He has declined as a player, rapidly, and now is mostly a cumbersome contract keeping the Angels from building a better team around Mike Trout. He is admired in Anaheim, but not beloved. But hey: The Cardinals aren’t the same as they were when he was here either. Neither am I. Neither are any of us.

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Illustration for article titled Volume 2, Issue 64: The One About Seeing Albert Pujols Back at Busch



Last night, Albert Pujols played his first game at Busch Stadium since leaving, since winning the 2011 World Series. I was there, with my father next to me. When Pujols came to the plate in the top of the first inning, we stood and applauded and screamed as loud as anybody in the stadium. We did it again the next time he batted, and again the next time. Seven years was enough time to get over the hurt feelings of him leaving. Seven years later, you’re just happy to see him. A lot has happened in those seven years, for all of us.

The beauty of sports is that it is constant, that no matter what else is going on in your life, sports are always happening. Your life changes, but sports are still sports. In 2001, I was a struggling kid worried it was all going to implode; in 2006, I was more confident but in just as pivotal a spot; in 2010, I was a husband, in 2011 I was a father, in 2014 I was a father again. Albert Pujols just kept playing baseball. Nothing was the same at the end of his 12 years in St. Louis as it was at the beginning — except him. It was my honor to get to go out and salute him for that last night, with my father next to me. Dad was right from the start: Pujols was the real deal.

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Illustration for article titled Volume 2, Issue 64: The One About Seeing Albert Pujols Back at Busch


Here is a numerical breakdown of all the things I wrote this week, in order of what I believe to be their quality. You may disagree. It is your wont.

1. The Cardinals and Pujols Were Never the Same Without Each Other, MLB.com. Obviously, I was going to get a work piece out of this.

2. Review: “Toy Story 4,” Paste Magazine. Don’t worry: It’s very, very good.

3. The Nine Up-in-the-Air Teams, MLB.com. I took a week off from the NY mag columns, by the way, in case you were looking for one of those. The main thing you should be reading this week in New York is this staggering piece from my old friend E. Jean Carroll.

4. Updated Pixar Rankings, Vulture. We love that we’re the official Pixar rankers at Vulture.

5. Debate Club: Best ‘90s Genre Performances, SYFY Wire. More love to Jodie Foster than Anthony Hopkins.

6. The Thirty: Every Team’s Most Deserving All-Star, MLB.com. If John Means is hurt, I have no idea who the Orioles player is going to be.

7. 2019 Tortured NBA Fanbase Rankings, Medium. Keeping the tradition going.

THE WILL LEITCH SHOW

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Illustration for article titled Volume 2, Issue 64: The One About Seeing Albert Pujols Back at Busch



In between seasons, Season Three should be back in September. Watch the ones you haven’t seen on Amazon or on SI TV.

PODCASTS

Grierson & Leitch, “Men In Black: International,” “The Dead Don’t Die,” “Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story” and “Shaft.”

Seeing Red, Bernie and I pay Pujols tribute.

Waitin’ Since Last Saturday, no show this week.

GET THIS LUNATIC OUT OF HERE 2020 PRESIDENTIAL POWER RANKINGS

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Illustration for article titled Volume 2, Issue 64: The One About Seeing Albert Pujols Back at Busch


Good week for Cory Booker. I’m pleased to see him finally getting a little bit of traction. If you would have asked me eight years ago who I thought I’d be supporting for President in 2020, it probably would have been him. I’m not there yet, but this is finally some positive forward movement. Anybody watching the debates this week? Just me?

1. Kamala Harris
2. Elizabeth Warren
3. Beto O’Rourke
4. Cory Booker
5. Joe Biden
6. Kirsten Gillibrand
7. Pete Buttigieg
8. Amy Klobuchar
9. Seth Moulton
10. Julian Castro
11. Jay Inslee
12. Bernie Sanders
13. Michael Bennet
14. John Hickenlooper
15. Steve Bullock
16. Bill de Blasio
17. Tim Ryan
18. Eric Swalwell
19. William Weld
20. Tulsi Gabbard
21. Marianne Williamson
22. John Delaney
23. Andrew Yang
24. Wayne Messam
25. Mike Gravel

ONGOING LETTER-WRITING PROJECT!

Have I told you how much joy going to the post office twice a week to pick these up gives me? A lot! Bring ‘em on at:

Will Leitch
P.O. Box 48
Athens GA 30603

CURRENTLY LISTENING TO



“All I’m Thinkin’ About,” Bruce Springstreen. The Boss has a new album out, so I thought I’d take this opportunity to give some love to “Devils & Dust,” the most underappreciated of all Springsteen albums. This one hit at exactly the right time, and, honestly, it’s the one I still probably play the most.

This guy turned five this week.



Happy birthday, man. Thank you for wearing the T-shirts Daddy puts out for you, even if you’d rather wear something with dinosaurs on it.

Have a great weekend, all.


Best,
Will

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