Yadier Molina and Albert Pujols

Los Angeles Angles Albert Pujols hugs St. Louis Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina during Pujols first time at bat to a standing ovation in the first inning at Busch Stadium in St. Louis on June 21, 2019. Pujols is returning to St. Louis for the first time since leaving the team in 2011. 

Let’s go back to December 8, 2011. St. Louis Cardinals superstar Albert Pujols had just accepted a 10-year $254 million offer from the Anaheim Angels and Cardinal Nation sure didn’t like it.

Paul Russo, who owned four Pro Image stores in the St. Louis, decided to give away all his chain’s Pujols merchandise.

“It’s not about the money, just like Albert said,” Russo told the Post-Dispatch. “Except he lied, and we didn’t.”

Online entrepreneur Mark Feltman was selling shirts for $14.99 that read “Albert Pujols is the greediest man on Earth.”

“I don’t plan to make any money on this, but I want to make a point,” he said.

Pujols 5 restaurant in Westport felt compelled to post a guard at the Pujols statue that stood outside the establishment.

Former Gov. Jay Nixon even took a shot at Pujols, saying he was “disappointed that (Pujols) decided to take the dollars and head to California.”

While some fans defended Pujols’ decision, the overwhelming majority of comments, social media posts and media responses oozed with resentment and bitterness toward the St. Louis icon.

Almost eight years later, Pujols returned for his first series against the Cardinals since his departure.

He was not greeted with wrath. Instead he received lengthy standing ovations before every at-bat. He was moved to tears several times. It was a lovefest.

“This is probably one of the best moments of my career,” Pujols said. “I'm going to put it up there with the two World Series championships.”

Pujols and catcher Yadier Molina exchanged autographed jerseys they wore in Sunday night’s finale, and he had kind words for his longtime friend.

“It's something that's going to be in my trophy case. To see the man that (Molina) has become, the leader, the champion. I can close my eyes right now and remember him, this little boy walking into Cardinals' camp. The man that he has become is unbelievable.”

The visit also put some pep in the old slugger’s step. Pujols went 4-for-11 with a home run in the series. It wasn’t vintage Pujols, but he also didn’t look like the shadow of a superstar he has become.

The Cardinals got the better of the decision when Pujols chose the Angels. Injuries and Father Time quickly took over his career.

But the Angels did get Pujols’ 3000th hit and his 500th and 600th home runs.

He has two years left on his contract with the Angels, and he should retire after that.

But, mark my words, barring a major injury between now and Spring Training 2022, Pujols will rejoin the Cardinals for a final season and then work for the organization in some capacity.

Roberts rules of order 

Dave Roberts, the lone black manager in Major League Baseball, told the L.A. Watts Times that the absence of black players and black fans must be addressed immediately.

“If you look at the overall numbers of African Americans in baseball, even since when I first got into the big leagues, its tumbled considerably. It’s unfortunate. I think that a lot of young African American kids in the inner-city are gravitating towards football and basketball. The role models in baseball are starting to be less and less,” he said.

“So, now, as an African American kid, to look at somebody and to relate to them and aspire to be them, those are harder to come by. So, as a sport, with Commissioner [Robert Manfred], I serve on the diversity committee and I am proud of that. We are trying to create opportunities for minorities and African Americans in baseball as athletes as players, in front office coaching and all these different scouts.”

Roberts’ comments come on the heels of a black pitcher, the New York Yankees CC Sabathia, recording his 250th win last week – something that MLB might not see for generations.

“Being an African American pitcher being from…the inner city, wanting this game to grow again back in the inner city," Sabathia said after his historic win.

“Having the chance to put up these numbers, and see some of these kids know that I’m from where they’re from and love this game of baseball.”

Sabathia trails only Ferguson Jenkins (283) and Bob Gibson (251) in the category “wins by black pitchers.” Ferguson hails from Canada, by the way.

In an outstanding article entitled “CC Sabathia: The last black ace?” by Bradford William Davis of the New York Daily News, the author wonders when, and if, there will be another great black pitcher.

“Sabathia’s win total is a testament to his excellence, especially as reductions in starter workloads across the league make win totals approaching his increasingly rare. However, for African American pitchers, these moments aren’t just rare — they’ve vanished. It’s too generous to say CC’s a dying breed. No, the breed died, and he’s what’s left,” Davis wrote.

“It casts a melancholy light onto celebration of Sabathia, who may be the last black American hurler reach a round number of that size for a very long time. The next best hope is 33-year-old Red Sox starter David Price, who is second among African American stars with 147 wins.

“The odds of finding another contender are long for two reasons: the modernizing on-field game that does not deploy starting pitchers the same way it used to — or sometimes at all — and the regressive culture of the game that has contributed to sharply declining rates of black youth participation in baseball.”

As shared here last week, The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports annual report card on diversity said MLB is still dragging its feet when it comes to black participation on and off the field.

Black player participation has dropped from 18.7 percent in 1981 to under 8 percent today. Since, historically, the fewest number of black players have line up as pitchers and catchers, it’s clear Sabathia certainly might be the game’s “last black ace” for decades to come.

The Reid Roundup 

First and foremost, please say a prayer for the family of slain North County Police Cooperative officer Michael Langsdorf … Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott and the Mathews-Dickey Boys and Girls Club will host a free two-session football camp from 8 a.m.-noon and noon- 4 p.m. Saturday June 29 at James “Cool Papa” Bell Stadium, 4442 Geraldine. More than 350 young athletes in each session will work on football skills, eat a meal with Elliott and receive an autograph. To register online and complete a waiver form visit www.mathews-dickey.com ... U.S. District Judge Stephen Limbaugh gave final approval to the class action lawsuit brought against owner Stan Kroenke on Monday and the franchise owes St. Louis Rams PSL holders up to $24 million. All claims must be filed by August, or the unclaimed money reverts back to Kroenke … In 2014, FORBES listed the valuation of the St. Louis Rams last in the NFL at $930 million. The 2018 value of the Los Angeles Rams stood at $3.2 billion, fourth in the NFL. The value will certainly climb based on the 2019 Super Bowl season, and will continue to grow when Kroenke opens his 80,000-seat stadium in Inglewood, Calif. You do the math … My Kansas Jayhawks and new coach Les Miles landed 3-star Hazelwood Central defensive end Caleb Taylor last week. If he signs his letter of intent in December, he will join former Ritenour offensive lineman Nick Williams, who was a redshirt in 2018, on KU’s roster. Taylor’s family is also relocating to the Kansas City area and he will play for prep football powerhouse Staley High School … Former Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said his melanoma cancer has returned and his battle against it has returned. It’s a shame that many Tigers fans will never forgive him for standing with his black players when they threatened to boycott a game in support of fellow black students during the 2015 season. He deserves better … Washington Wizards All-Star guard Bradley Beal said Monday that coach Scott Brooks, acting general manager Tommy Sheppard and owner Ted Leonsis have told him the team has no plans to trade him. The same was said of Otto Porter last season and he was traded a few weeks later … Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum will be sporting Michael Jordan-brand shoes after dropping NIKE and signing a multi-year deal with Jordan. Terms have not been disclosed as of Tuesday.

Alvin A. Reid was honored as the 2017 “Best Sports Columnist – Weeklies” in the Missouri Press Association’s Better Newspaper Contest and is a New York Times contributor. He is a panelist on the Nine Network program, Donnybrook, a weekly contributor to “The Charlie Tuna Show” on KFNS and appears monthly on “The Dave Glover Show” on 97.1 Talk.” Reach him on Twitter at @aareid1.

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