Originally written on The Baseball Page  |  Last updated 5/7/12

The Albert Pujols sideshow finally ended on May 6, 2012, in the 111th AB of what has so far been a season of well-paid misery for the former King of St Louis.  It ended with that long-awaited first official home run (although he hit seven in Spring Training) as an Angel; a wait that was so excruciatingly long and drawn-out, it reminded me of the similarly long and drawn-out death watch on the Nightly News of Spain's Generalissimo Francisco Franco, who stubbornly refused to die for weeks-on-end back in '75.

So, Generalissimo Alberto Pujols, who stubbornly refused to hit a home run for weeks-on-end, became the most heralded and well-covered failure in sports journalistic history.  As every new AB resulted in the same old outcome, the scrutiny intensified, the team losses began building up, and so did the boos launched in the direction of the beleaguered Alberto from his disgruntled legion of fans.  Pujols had never been booed before; at least nothing like the chorus that rained down on him after striking out for the sixteenth time this season, in his second AB of the game on Sunday. 

These are the same fans who gleefully greeted the former Cardinal icon at a December 8, 2011 celebratory press conference with chants of, "Thank you, Albert!"  There hadn't been that much excitement in Anaheim since the Rally Monkey Halos won the 2002 World Series - the first in franchise history.  Clearly, the expectation level going into the 2012 season was as high as it's ever been in the aftermath of that first World Championship.  After all, with a future Hall of Fame-two-time-World Series-champion-slugger added to the lineup, the Angels were expected to at least be a playoff-caliber team; possibly, even a World Championship-caliber team.  If there's one silver-lining to the cloud hovering over the Halos' head, it's that the Texas Rangers have been scuffling lately as well, and haven't pulled all that far away yet (seven game lead).

When Pujols made his third trip to the plate with a man on base, and the Angels holding a slim 2-1 lead, he promptly launched a hanging slider 390 feet over the left field fence into the jubilant Angels' bullpen, bringing back memories of the three bombs he crushed in Game Three of last year's World Series.  On that occasion, Pujols had come into the game looking for his first hit in the Series, and had been criticized for a fielding miscue in Game Two which help facilitate a Rangers victory.  He was even criticized for ducking the horde of reporters after that game who were in search of comments from the King himself about his miserable performance on baseball's grandest stage. 

It's safe to say he had a bit of a chip on his shoulder going into Game Three in Arlington, Texas. 

Quite possibly, all those boos he had been hearing lately put another chip on his shoulder.  Perhaps the confused and indecisive Albert has been replaced by the focused and confident Albert; the Albert with a chip on his shoulder who finally got that first Halo home run in front of those now-cheering Halo fans, who suddenly wanted a curtain call from their new-found hero.  He didn't oblige them; I'm not sure he has any plans to accommodate any future requests for the rest of the season, for that matter.

Yes, Albert is back.  He'll more than likely finish the season with pretty decent numbers; after all, Pujols still managed to hit 37 home runs last year in St Louis; a season in which he endured a 27-game-105 AB homer-less drought.  That one must have seemed like a walk in the park compared to his most recent ordeal.  What a difference a year makes.

Whatever happens for the rest of the season is anybody's guess.  I'm pretty sure Pujols will keep that chip on his shoulder for the remainder of the schedule, which should be good news for the Angels and their fans.  However, it appears the honeymoon is over.  This very expensive ten-year marriage has gotten off to a rocky start; this doesn't bode well for the next nine years, as Albert's inevitable decline in production becomes more pronounced.  For the time being, at least there is cause for a bit of optimism in Anaheim.

The Albert Pujols sideshow has finally ended; and Generalissimo Francisco Franco is still dead.

by Larry Underwood

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