Albert Pujols has defied age – and the ghost of Willie Maes in Twilight


Albert Pujols played the first half of this season as the elderly Willie Maes. He plays in the second half as the ageless Tom Brady.

Like Mays, Pujols returned to town as he began his career to an emotional conclusion. In the Pujols’ case, this meant the appearance of St. Louis after a 10-year hiatus in California. Mays, who started his major league career with the New York Giants, also left for the Golden State but under different circumstances – his team moved to San Francisco in 1958. He made a famous comeback home with the New York Mets 14 years later.

Mays was one of the greatest players of all time, but his final season in 1973, at the age of 42, was a typical case of an athlete who stayed put for a long time. A lifelong .302 hitter who played unrivaled center field, the Mays only .211 notched .647 on base plus slowed that year and missed playing World Championship volleyball.

When St. Louis Cardinals and Pujols announced in March That the future Hall of Famer had signed on as a free agent to end his career with his original team, some were concerned that he might repeat Mays’ mistake. Pujols, also 42, emphasized that this was a baseball decision, not one of nostalgia.

“They think I can still play this game, they think I can help this organization win the championship. And I believe in that too.” He said at a press conference.

However, during the first three months of the season, Pujols looked worse than the 1973 version of the Mays. On the 4th of July it was Hit Only a .189 with a .601 OPS—and it’s heading in the wrong direction. After a good start, Pujols Hit .188 in May and .158 in June. He had four petty birds. This season had all the hallmarks of a Willie Mays revival.

Then it changed. Since the all-star breakPujols was one of the game’s top hitters, hitting .366 with 0.756 slowdowns during Saturday’s games. The Pujols are also chasing 700 home runs – he’s only five minutes away – which seemed impossible earlier this season. Last month, 1,224 OPS topped all major leagues with at least 65 billboard appearances, such as Note Jason Stark from Athletic.

And most recently, St. Louis sports columnist Bernie Miklas Wrote That Pujols “doesn’t embarrass himself. Pujols are no old, sad, rickety and inconsistent Elvis. Pujols perform like Elvis did in 1968—who made a stunningly successful comeback on the nationally televised NBC special.”

‘Like back to heaven’

When Pujols left the Cardinals as a free agent after the 2011 season to Signing a 10-year contract with the Los Angeles Angels, crushed many St. Louis fans. But that was nothing compared to the loss New York City baseball fans felt in 1958, after the Giants left for San Francisco and the Brooklyn Dodgers moved to Los Angeles. New Yorkers particularly missed Mays, who led in his final season in the Big Apple National League in the slow percentage, stole bases and triples — a trio of feats who demonstrated an unfathomable combination of speed and power.

The Mets – who started playing in 1962 and were the laughingstock of the Premier League in their first few seasons – brought back some of the Dodgers’ old stars beyond their prime, such as first officer Jill Hodges and quarterback Duke Sneijder. They had their sights set on Mays in those early days, too.

In May 1963, The team honored him at Willie Maze’s Night. At the Polo Grounds, the old soccer field for the Giants used by the Mets before moving to Shea Stadium. On the same day, the city declared “Willy Mays Day” in Manhattan.

“I feel like this is my home,” Mace said at the festivities that night, still in his prime days before his 32nd birthday.

William A.

“Gil Hodges has brought us back from the coast and the Duke of Snyder is back. We love them and we love you, Willie. When, Mr. Stoneham, are you going to bring us Willie back?”

The answer, as it turns out, was exactly about nine years later, when in May 1972 the Mets acquired him from the Giants for bowler Charlie Williams and $50,000. The deal took place in a hotel in New York. Among the participants were Mays Stoneham, Mets chairman Donald Grant and team manager Yogi Berra. The New York Times reported that when the four men went downstairs, “the lobby shook with the kind of tension a heavyweight boxing champ generates as he walks down the aisle to defend his title.”

In trade time, the Mets were first in the NL East, 13-6, while the Giants bottomed in the NL West at 8-16. Maes, 41, had a slow start too, coming in at just 0.184 with San Francisco, but he was confident there was something left in the tank.

“When you come back to New York, it’s like going back to heaven,” Mays told reporters. “I’m here to play. The Mets have a good squad, and they wouldn’t put me there just because my name is Willie Mays. But I think I can still play.”

“I am looking forward to playing and helping but not to embarrass myself,” he added.

at recent days Interview with USA TodayPujols sounded a similar note.

“It has been great to have the opportunity to come back to St. Louis where it all began for me 21 years ago,” said Pujols, who as Mays was once again welcomed by adoring fans. “This organization thought I could help. It wasn’t just going back to celebrate my last year. I knew I could help”

I can’t even mention the word “retirement” to him”

When people think of the Mays’ Mets days, they naturally think of their last season on the hill. Often forgotten is his decent first year with the Mets, when he hit 0.267 with a 0.848 OPS in that bottom year of 1972, when the sport’s batting average was It was only .244.

The wheels came off in the 1973 season marred by injuries, which included swollen knees, sore shoulder and cracked ribs.

“Cary Grant retired so he didn’t have to watch himself grow up on screen,” Steve Roschen Written in Sports Illustrated last year. “Mays never do such a thing.”

Unlike the Pujols this year, the Mays did not announce before the season that he would be the last, which made the situation sensitive for the Mets as it became clear the end was near.

“I can’t even mention the word ‘retirement’ to him,” Grant, Chairman of the Board of Directors of the team, in early September. “It’s a touchy thing with Willie, and it means so much to all of us that he’s being pressured to make a decision.”

“I want to play as long as I can help,” Mays said at the time. “I’ve always said I would quit when it was no longer fun for me or there was no longer any help for the team.”

Finally on September 20 — with the Mets in the midst of a furious late-season rally that would barely help them claim the division title under their “Ya Gotta Believe” tagline — Mays announced his retirement at the end of the season.

“It’s been an amazing 22 years, and I don’t get out of baseball just because I’m injured. I just feel like the people of America shouldn’t see a guy who plays and can’t produce,” he said at a busy news conference at Shea Stadium.

He expressed his appreciation for New York fans: “I’m not ashamed of the way things have gone in the last couple of months. They haven’t run out of me. In San Francisco, I don’t think I would have played this year. People would have taken me out of town. In New York, they let me hit.” 211″.

The team honored him with Second, “Willie Mays Knight” A few days later, when 50,000 fans bid him farewell at Shea Stadium on an autumn evening in Queens amid the Pennant race. Mays looked young in a Mets jacket and baseball cap, sometimes crying his face.

“I never felt like I was going to quit baseball,” he said. “But you know, it always comes time for someone to come out.”

The Mets honored Mays again last weekend when they were retirement number Fulfilling a promise made to him by Mets owner Joan Payson half a century ago. (She died in 1975).

Mace finished his career third in the home races with a score of 660. He has since been surpassed by Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez And two years ago, Pujols.

The Mets won the division in 1973 with a record 82-79, then stunned the Cincinnati Reds in the NL Championship to win their second pennant in five years. Mays returned for the postseason season, went 1 for 3 in NLCS.

In the The second match of the World Championship Against Oakland Athletics, he showed his waning talent and skills. Mays missed a flyball at the bottom of the ninth inning, helping A to tie the game, then picked it up in the second in the twelfth inning, earning the Mets a tied win. Oakland ended up winning the series in seven games.

The Cardinals mainly use Pujols – who called himself “the grandfather of this club” – as their designated hitter, so he is unlikely to face any defensive challenges this fall. Some suggested he should consider coming back next season, especially if he’s still chasing 700 reptiles, but Pujols objected.

Any mention of Pujols in the same Mays is now about milestones, not errors. For example, the visiting Pujols on August 20 was his 64 multi-input game – Breaking the tie with Messi for fifth place all time.