Let me say right up front that trying to assess a player’s mental state is a fool’s errand. Even if the player is talking, which he normally isn’t, we are likely to be fed tired clichés. In other cases, even if there is smoke, misdirection and mirrors are quite possible.
Having said all that, the case of Albert Pujols has been on my mind all year long. The pre-spring training drama over his contract negotiations with the St. Louis Cardinals led to the most-watched spring training camp arrival in Jupiter, Florida history.
Prior to the season, I wrote about my concerns over how Pujols’ first-ever impending free agency might affect his on-field results. I went as far as suggesting Miguel Cabrera would be my preferred number one pick in mixed league drafts.
When draft day for National League Tout Wars came, I had no intention of paying to roster Albert and of course, Cabrera was unavailable. When the bidding on Pujols reached $41, I said “$42,” not expecting the room to go quiet.
As a result, for the first time I can recall, I owned the rights to the Cardinals first baseman in a fantasy league. It isn’t any league, mind you. Tout is THE most important league in which I compete.
As most already know, Pujols is in the midst of his worst season of his 11 as a major leaguer. The most consistent player of the last decade has been consistent only in his scuffling during the first half of 2011.
Well, to be honest, the great Pujols is leading the National League in one category here in 2011, but that category is a most unenviable one - grounding into double plays (19).
Pujols’ average is just .273, a whopping 58 points below his career mark prior to this season. He has just 11 doubles, on a pace to finish with 20. His previous career low point is 33. His home run and RBI counts of 17 and 46, respectively, also are on a career-low rate.
On June 19, Pujols’ fantasy owners’ worst fears were realized.
I was at the game at Busch Stadium that Sunday afternoon when Pujols collided with the Royals’ Wilson Betemit and fell to the ground in pain.
A CT scan the next day indicated a non-displaced fracture of his left radius (forearm). Pujols’ arm was placed in a splint as it was announced that he would likely be sidelined from 4 to 6 weeks.
Instead, the superstar first baseman exhibited superhuman healing powers. Pujols was activated off the disabled list after spending the minimum 15 days only.
The player who was generally accepted as MLB’s best player soaked up widespread adulation for his amazing recovery.
The activation, a surprise, occurred on Tuesday, a day after most weekly leagues required rosters to be set. I follow the Cards for a living and had no thoughts whatsoever of activating Pujols this week.
His return is good news, right? The nagging question is whether or not he is healed and ready.
Would Pujols have come back this aggressively even in a non-contract year?
Only he knows.
More importantly for us all, will he hit as he did prior to the injury, return to being the Pujols of old or will his curious 2011 slump worsen?
Even he does not know.
It is still very, very early, but Pujols is just 1-for-12 since his return and his team is 0-3.
If you are a Pujols owner like me, you have no choice other than to buckle up and prepare to go where Albert takes you. Make sure your belt is on tight as turbulence is expected ahead.
Brian Walton was the 2009 National League Tout Wars champion, scoring the most points in the league’s 13-year history. He is a 2009 NFBC league winner and finished in the top 25 nationally in both the NFBC and NFFC that season. His work can also be found daily at TheCardinalNation.com and thecardinalnationblog.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.