He’s been called Phat Albert, the Machine, El Hombre, and, occasionally, Winnie the Pujols. One day, he may also be called the greatest baseball player ever to swing a bat. The thing about Albert Pujols, though, is that somehow an honor like that doesn’t even matter. Why should it? The most important thing about being at the top of your game, says the Cardinals first baseman, is that you can never be too satisfied.
And therein lies Pujols’ secret for success. Because, despite winning the MLB’s Rookie of the Year title in 2001, the Hank Aaron Award for best league hitter in 2003, the National League MVP in 2005, and even a World Series ring last October, he’s still hungry for more. Ask the 27-year-old, who has also already racked up 250 homers and is generally regarded as the guy who will eventually become the all-time home-run champion, what he thinks of himself as a player, and he’ll tell you how much better he could be-and how much more his skills can improve. It’s an admirable approach. It’s also a scary thought, particularly if you’re a pitcher who has to come up with a way to strike this superstar out.
With his seventh big-league season about to get under way, Pujols spoke with MF about just how a 13th-round draft pick went on to become one of the most feared sluggers in the game.
MF: What’s it feel like to be the defending World Series champion?
AP: It feels great, but at the same time, all you can do is celebrate and have fun and enjoy it until you throw that first ball in spring training. After that, you have to forget it. You have another year-a brand-new year-and you start from zero. You can’t be satisfied. It sounds kind of selfish, but that’s the attitude you need to have in this game.
MF: The Cardinals got knocked by some people for being last year’s champions after winning only 83 games during the regular season. Did that tick you off?
AP: I really got mad about that. They said we weren’t good enough. That’s what went through my mind when we made that last out. I was like, “Yes, we did it-what do you say about that now?” We only won 83 games, but we won our division! Obviously, we played better baseball than anyone in our division, and that’s why we got there. We deserved to be there.
MF: You were teammates with Mark McGwire during your rookie season. What’s your take on his viability as a Hall of Famer?
AP: He’s got my vote. [Critics] are talking about these things, the steroids era and all that stuff, but until you prove him wrong, that guy is innocent. It’s been really sad to hear them talk the way they do about Mark. I’m telling you, he and Sammy Sosa were the two guys who really brought baseball back.
MF: Alex Rodriguez has a milk mustache. Derek Jeter has his own cologne. How come we don’t see you doing too many big-time commercials or endorsement deals?
AP: It’s probably because I’m in a smaller city. Maybe if I were in L.A. or New York or somewhere like that, I’d be doing a bunch of commercials and other things. But right now I’m fine. I’m blessed. It’s like when you cook soup or something and the water starts spilling off – I don’t want to have all that [extra stuff]. Sure, I’d love to do some commercials and other things like that, but obviously that opportunity hasn’t come yet.
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