Albert Pujols and the treatment of people

Note: I wrote this column when I was down in Florida last week. I recognize the criticism that will follow (it already has), but I ask fans to stop always blindly defending the behavior of athletes, merely because they’re athletes. I’m not saying Albert Pujols is Satan, or even Satan Jr. He may well be America’s nicest man. But I’ve watched him in spring training for several years now, and it always infuriates me. I know athletes are bombarded by fans; that they can’t sign everything; that memorabilia peddlers take the fun out. Bottom line: You have the chance to truly touch people.

Or not to.

When I was a kid, my dad told me something I’ve never forgotten. He said, “Jeff, you can judge people by how they treat you, or you can judge them by how they treat others. It’s easy to praise someone for being nice to you when they need to be. But do they talk to the waiter? The bellhop? Are they friendly to people for no other reason than it’s righteous?”

I agree 100%.

The line stretches halfway around Roger Dean Stadium here in Jupiter, Florida, an elastic red-and-white snake of hope and dreams and nostalgia and, well, more than a smidge of anger.

The 617 people are, technically, here for St. Louis Cardinals Autograph Day.

The 617 people are, factually, here for Albert Pujols.

Do not take the last sentence to mean that they, the Redbird fans gathered at the team’s spring training facility this past Saturday, love Albert Pujols. Oh, they love the way he plays. The Ruthian home runs deep into the stands. The doubles laced into the gaps. The intensity with which he runs the bases; the steeliness he brings to the plate in a clutch situation.

Genuine love, however, is more than mere admiration. Genuine love, especially in sports, means forming a bond; a relationship; a connection. St. Louis fans love Stan Musial because, for 70 years, he has been loving them back. The same passion can be applied to Lou Brock and Ozzie Smith and even Mark McGwire. They are St. Louis icons not merely for their talents, but for their dispositions.

In this department, Albert Pujols falls far short.

Because we in the sports media tend to make certain allowances for superstars, Pujols has been repeatedly praised for his soft heart and charitable deeds. If one were to audaciously suggest that Pujols leans toward unfriendly and rude, he would inevitably be reminded that the St. Louis slugger is heavily involved in his own charitable foundation, which does great work in areas related to Down syndrome. And that the St. Louis slugger is very religious. And that the St. Louis slugger is charitable and religious. Really, his charity is amazing! And he’s religious! Very religious! So, so, so religious. Loves God! Really!*

Which would all be swell and dandy were Pujols not, ahem, treating Cardinals fans like garbage. Which he does.


To watch Pujols interact with the St. Louis diehards is to watch a prototypical spoiled, arrogant 21st century sports star at his absolute worst. During spring training, it is common for players to wave or smile or nod or (gasp!) talk to fans as they trot from one field to the next during otherwise monotonous drill sessions. Lance Berkman is the king of this practice. Gerald Laird isn’t far behind. Pujols, on the other hand, does nothing. When people call his name, he almost never gazes up. When people ask for an autograph, he doesn’t even bother with a “Not now” or “Try me later.” Instead, he resorts to tactics men like Barry Bonds and Albert Belle perfected in the recent decades—the steel-faced, Why-are-you-even-talking-to-me? ignore-the-world two-step.

It’s not that Pujols doesn’t say much—neither does Derek Jeter. It’s not that Pujols is intense—Josh Hamilton is certainly right there with him. No, what rubs an increasing number of people wrongly is his galling frostiness. Or, as one longtime Cardinals usher said to me the other day, “How about looking up at people when they talk to you? How about acknowledging that they exist?”

Said another: “He’s probably a nice man. But he never shows it.”

Pujols’ supporters (and there are many) will cry blasphemy; will cite the myriad pressures of being a superstar jock; will evoke the foundation and the spirituality and 42 home runs and 118 RBIs from 2010. And, to a certain degree, they’ll have a case. But as I comb through the 617 people waiting to enter Roger Dean—many of who slept out through the night to be assured their seven seconds with Pujols—I am struck by the oddness of it all. Save for the handful of professional memorabilia collectors (who really do ruin these things for everyone), the people here simply want to be touched by Albert Pujols; to see that, come day’s end, he’s a wonderful man.

And yet …

• “We want Albert to be a Cardinal for life, and he’s an amazing player,” says Jan, a Belleville, Illinois native who slept outside the stadium. “I understand that it’s hard signing every autograph. I get that. But he doesn’t seem to sign any.”

• “I want to love Albert,” says Deron, a Shiloh, Illinois native who also slept out. “But he makes it hard sometimes.”

• “I don’t understand Albert, because the fans would give anything to like and support him,” says Chris, an engineer and lifelong Cardinals fan. “But he doesn’t sign autographs, and when he does sign he makes it illegible slop and he’s never polite.”

Now, however, on Autograph Day, Pujols must sign. The Cardinals have told their players that they are required to wear their jerseys, sit and accept items for one full hour. Hence, the 617.

Pujols is placed at the end of a white table, alongside pitcher Adam Reifer. When the fans are finally herded into Roger Dean, roughly 75 percent head straight to Pujols’ line.

Here is a direct, play-by-play transcript from the opening minutes:

Fan: “Albert, great to meet you! You’re my favorite player in the world!”

Pujols (not looking up): “Thanks.”

Fan 2: “Albert, do you sign jerseys?”

Pujols: (not looking up): “No.”

Fan 2: “Helmets?”

Pujols (not looking up): “No.”

Fan 3: “Good luck this year, Albert. You deserve everything you get.”

Pujols (not looking up): “Uh-huh. Thanks.”

Fan 4: “Albert, my daughter loves you.”

Pujols (not looking up): No response.

Pujols does not look up—ever. He does not show emotion—ever. The fan can be a grandmother; the fan can be a 6-year-old boy. It matters not. Like 98 percent of his teammates, he’d rather be shaving wild emus than sitting here. The rest of the Cardinals, however, attempt to hide it. For a full hour, Pujols doesn’t. Because of his endorsement deal with Upper Deck, he signs only pictures and baseballs (every other player signs whatever’s presented to him). He rarely smiles, concealing any emotions (and his face) behind a pair of sunglasses.

Within the Cardinals’ organization, this has been a well-kept secret for years—that the Albert Pujols everyone wants to love isn’t all that loveable. Many familiar with Pujols aren’t surprised by his rumored contract demands—the 10 years, the $30 million annually—because the numbers meet the ego.

Yet now, with free agency approaching, the real Albert Pujols might have to step up. Thirty million dollar ballplayers can’t just be ballplayers. They can’t just talk foundations and God. They have to be ambassadors. They have to be representatives. They have to smile and greet and symbolize and acknowledge that what fans want most isn’t aloofness, but access.

They have to look up.

* PS: Fact: We in the sports media far too often judge an athlete’s goodness based on his charitable foundation. I’d say 50 percent of top-tier athletes have some sort of foundation, and while I don’t doubt Pujols’ intentions in this area, it’s not the best manner (in my opinion) for judging a person.

And I don’t want to hear that he’s shy. Or bashful. He’s not. And, in my book, there’s never an excuse to treat people this way. Ever.

77 thoughts on “Albert Pujols and the treatment of people”

  1. Red Sox spring training 2011, I saw a kid say something nice to Adrian Gonzalez. A-Gone was coming back slowly from a shoulder injury. He asked the kid if he had a glove. Told him to go get it. A-Gone took the kid on the field and had him help him with his fielding drills for a solid 30+ minutes. Adrian Gonzalez, a great ambassador for the game.

    I’ve been to golf tournaments – Tiger Woods was the biggest d-bag pro athlete I’ve ever seen. Phil Mickelson was TERRIFIC with the fans, spoke with people, was polite, and signed autographs for 45 minutes until everyone was satisfied.

    Pujols sounds like a dink.

  2. As a Cardinals fan who doesn’t court personal contact with the players, I think Albert has given fans more than their money’s worth. No scandals. No steroids. Plays hard on the field. Doesn’t get in trouble off the field. Good luck in Anaheim. I’d have loved for you to stay a Card.

    1. No steroids??? How the hell are you so sure??? Plays hard???? Are you kidding???? He jogs to first and showboats every chance he gets. Jeter is a player that plays hard. Are you blind??? Do me a favor and put down your copy of the cardinals media guide, take off your bright red under-roos, tear down your ‘free to the first 10,000’ Big Mac posters and step into reality. He was only the best hitter of the “Steroid Era”. He played for a manager who is a known “steroid embracer”. Remember the Bash Brothers, Troy Glaus (known roider), Juan Gonzalez (known roider), Juiced Mac (known roider), ryan Franklin (known roider), and and LaRussa’s name splattered throughout The Mitchell Report? If Puj-madonna is such a great ambassador for the game, he sure bit his tongue when The Mitchell Report investigators came callin, just like the rest of baseball. Probably forgot his English, like Sosa, Mang!!! Hell, division 1 sports are riddled with steroid use and you want me to believe that the best player at the Major League level isn’t doing it too, PUUULEASE!!! Not saying he is a roider, but I also don’t need the weather man to tell me if it’s sunny when I have a perfectly good window to look out of. You are part of the 3million “sheeple” that have your head so far up the cardinal’s ass that you’ve lost touch with what you are really witnessing. I bet you boo’d Bonds everytime he came to the plate too???

  3. I can not believe some of you guys I myself think he does not have to sign anything to anybody what law is out there that forces him to sign for you. Look at celebrities like Tom Hanks, Leonardo DiCaprio and etc will not sign autographs and will rarely be seen out in public. If the man does not want to sign for you then move on with your life. Buy his autograph from his website so he can give that money to his Pujols Foundation. I believe he won’t decline until the last couple years of his baseball career and now being in a hitters league he will dominate the American League just like he did the National League.

    1. How is that dominating going for King Angel going?

      Happy to let Angels pay for his decline… Hoping King Angel goes into HOF with a A on his hat… That way the Angels could have a HOF player..

  4. I was at Angels Spring training in 2012 and asked Mr Pujols pregame , if I could get a quick picture with my son and he looked at me in disgust and said no and leave me alone….seriously I was pissed and still pissed today. My son at 8 years old was in shock…I was in shocked. He was standing in front of us maybe 2 feet away and really just had to stand there. The guys a jerk and karma is a bitch …he deserves what he gets !

  5. Hello my first experience was yesterday 3/5/2013 Albert Pujols first day of 2013. I saw Josh Hamilton, Mike Trout, Mark Trumbo,Mike Scoiscia,Peter Bourjas sign Autographs for some lucky fans. Albert Pujols walked by and didnt even look at the crowd. Shook had’s with some players.Now I’m not going to give any negative comments about my Team “The Angels”,but when you bring your wife to a game who only thing that comes out of her mouth is “WOW”in a very negative tone towards Pujols. It says alot about a high profiled player who will never be voted for in any future All Star game on our Ballots!!!

  6. David A. Rubalcava

    I 100% agree with everything you are saying. He should practice what he preaches and this goes for any athelete that believes in God or has a charity etc. I mean I get it, day in and day out constantly being hounded by fans “can I have this, can I get that ” could get old really quick. But as a human being you should remember how you got there and where you came from and always know how blessed and fortunate you are to not be on the other side of the rope, because I guarantee you that if they weren’t who they were they would be there right along with us so called little people asking for the auto or the picture.

    But I can’t say much because I’m not mlb ball player who makes x amount of money. All I know that if it was me I would never forget how I was brought up and to always show people some respect despite the fact that you get hounded by this person or that person. You should’ve thought about that before you signed up, its part of the job. Sad though that people can loose themselves to fame and fortune but again were all human, so there it is.

  7. Former Cards Fan

    It’s not just Albert Pujols, it is MOST of the St. Louis Cardinals players (and esp. Coach Mike Matheny) that treat the “best fans in baseball” like garbage. I guess they don’t realize that without us, they wouldn’t have jobs making millions of dollars. It is nearly impossible to get Cardinal player autographs at home games but you can always get visiting player autographs. So, I took my son to a road game in LA this past week – to see Dodger Stadium since it’s the 3rd oldest one around and with high hopes of getting some autographs for my son. We got tickets in the first row next to the dugout in RF because that’s the place to get autographs for the visiting team at Dodger Stadium. We were so close to the players during warm-up but every one of them refused to sign anything (maybe b/c Matheny is a “control freak” and doesn’t let them?) So, we stayed after the game was over and waited near the bus, just in case MM doesn’t let them sign during warm-ups or the game. There were only about 15 kids waiting outside for autographs. It would take them less than 2 1/2 minutes (TOTAL) to sign autographs for 15 kids, but every single player except Lance Lynn and Randy Choate walked past those adoring young fans like they were too good to stop and sign anything. They didn’t even have anything better to do except get on the bus and WAIT. My son got Lance Lynn’s autograph but not Choate b/c Matheny came out while Choate was signing and he said once Matheny is ready, everyone better be on the bus. So, I guess this is how they repay the “best fans in baseball” is to treat them like garbage, just like Pujols used to.. Maybe it is passed down from the manger b/c he smirked when a fan asked for his autograph and said “come back tomorrow”.

  8. I don’t like the new Ballpark for that one reason. Players would always come out and sign for a few minutes. Once it was so hot, Brian Jordan came out with cards he had pre signed. While my son had a baseball he was just as excited to get an autogragh.

  9. It’s quite obvious that this fellow specializes in writing about the worst of people. This article is filled with logical fallacies galore. It might as well be saying, “If you’re shy, you’re evil.”

  10. Francisco Diego Verdad

    Angels fans have seen this Albert Pujols from his very first day in Anaheim. The truth is, if anything this article doesn’t go far enough in describing just how horrible a person he is. The guy really is as rude as they come. A complete jerk. He loathes the very people that support him. His foundation really turned out to be a great disguise for him. It has camouflaged the real him from the public and bought him a ridiculous amount of leeway with both the press and fans.
    Like clockwork, whenever you bring up the real Albert Pujols, the person, the foundation is the first thing that is thrown back at you. People that have never been around Pujols are convinced that he must be an amazing person because because he has a foundation and a step-cild with Down Syndrome. Because of that they are convinced that he must be that he wonderful in every way. Hell, even the people that know better, the media, beat reporters, clubhouse guys, etc…who know just how horrible he is defend and protect him because of those things. It is the damndest thing.
    The truth is, Albert Pujols is a complete and total jerk. He is as pretentious as they come, the very definition of a spoiled, elitist jackass of a person/athlete. It’s beyond impolite/rude with Albert. With Albert it is obvious that he gets pleasure out of treating people like dirt. He really is as callous as a person can get. Certainly one of the worst people that I have ever been around by far.
    Know this: Albert is a cold-hearted, self-absorbed, heartless egomaniac that takes every opportunity he is presented with to look down on and treat others like dirt.

  11. This has been was 0 – 4 last night and 0 – 4 tonight against the LAD. This ego driven fraud and his ‘faith’ act. I so tire of ‘born again’ millionaires pointing to heaven…let’s see them when they’re flat broke and see then where their ‘faith’ is…understand I admire men and women of faith but not this kind of a fraud. Sooner he is gone the better – send his washed up back end out to San Bernardino or Little Rock-AR … get him gone with his fat waddle and bloated gut.

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