Saturday, December 10, 2011
Albert Pujols, C.J. Wilson introduced
By Mark Saxon
ANAHEIM, Calif. -- At 11:50 a.m. Pacific time Saturday morning, Albert Pujols pulled on a red Los Angeles Angels cap and launched the most ambitious chapter in franchise history.
More than 4,000 fans showed up at Angel Stadium Saturday for the official introduction of the superstar first baseman along with pitcher C.J. Wilson, the free agent pickups -- together with reliever LaTroy Hawkins -- from a one-week spending spree of more than $330 million by Angels owner Arte Moreno.
Fans chanted, "Thank you, Arte!"
Yet even Moreno acknowledged, "In a perfect world, he's a Cardinal," in deference to Pujols' 11 seasons in St. Louis, where he won three MVP awards, two World Series titles and became a civic icon. The Angels swooped in on Wednesday at baseball's winter meetings, offering Pujols a 10-year, $254 million contract that surpassed the Cardinals' offer by more than $40 million. They shocked many baseball observers by then also acquiring Wilson from the division-rival Texas Rangers.
"We just wanted to keep our hands in the cookie jar, but I didn't want it to be a situation where I was disrespectful to the Cardinals in trying to run up the price," Moreno said.
Pujols, who attended the press conference with his wife, Deidre, and son, Albert Jr., said it was a difficult, emotional decision, one he didn't reach until about 7:30 a.m. Thursday morning.
His lack of familiarity with his new employer showed up a few times during Saturday's introduction, first when he referred to the "City of L.A. ... Anaheim, sorry," and later when he called Angels ace Jered Weaver "Jeff." Pujols was a teammate of Weaver's older brother, Jeff.
"You play in a city for 11 years and, the way the city of St. Louis embraced me and my family, my foundation. ... The love, the support ... I said it earlier. I was just a little baby when I came up, 21 years old, and they made me into the man I am right now," Pujols said.
The Angels, who won one World Series and made the playoffs six times between 2002 and 2009, have been baseball's biggest spenders this offseason after two straight seasons of missing the playoffs. Flush with the proceeds of a soon-to-be-completed TV deal that's expected to net them more than $3 billion over the next 20 years, they moved aggressively to shore up a sub-par offense and to further polish one of the best pitching staffs in the majors.
Weaver and Dan Haren, both of whom finished in the top seven in Cy Young balloting last season, were among a handful of Angels players who showed up to welcome Pujols and Wilson. Haren is the only Angel who played with Pujols. He was with the Cardinals until they traded him to Oakland before the 2005 season.
"When he steps into the locker room, you can kind of feel it. But I think the biggest thing is just him making everybody else better," Haren said. "That's what he did in St. Louis and I'm sure that's what he's going to do here. Having a guy like that on your team, you feel like you can't lose."
In the three days since agreeing to terms with Pujols and Wilson, the Angels have sold more than 1,000 season tickets and received in excess of 500 online orders for ticket packages.
Wilson learned via Twitter late in his negotiation with the Angels that they had begun to make headway toward signing Pujols and he decided, "I'd really like to get on that train as well." He grew up in Orange County, but spent his entire professional career with the Rangers, the last two seasons as one of the top starters in the league, so Saturday completed a homecoming.
"It's great to come home, to set up shop here, live here all year round like I've always wanted to," Wilson said. "It's a dream come true for me to be an Angel. It's really as simple as that. I know how awesome the fans are, because I grew up here and used to go to games here as a kid."
Mark Saxon covers the Angels for ESPNLosAngeles.com.