Albert Pujols, in Angels camp as guest instructor, aspires to different title: Manager

Albert Pujols reported to Angels camp on Monday for a weeklong stint as a guest instructor, fulfilling one of the obligations of the former slugger’s 10-year, $10-million personal services contract with owner Arte Moreno.

If the next few years unfold the way Pujols envisions, the surefire Hall-of-Famer will return to spring training someday with a new title: manager.

“Yeah,” Pujols said, when asked if he wants to manage in the big leagues. “I think, you know, why not? If the opportunity is right one day, I think I’ll be ready for that.”

Pujols, 44, retired in 2022 after a 22-year career in which he won three National League most valuable player awards and two World Series titles with the St. Louis Cardinals, became the fourth member of baseball’s exclusive 700-homer club, joining Barry Bonds, Hank Aaron and Babe Ruth, and racked up 3,384 hits, 2,218 RBIs and 1,914 runs.

But he is hardly the retiring type. Since the end of his playing career, Pujols has worked as a special assistant to Commissioner Rob Manfred, an on-air analyst for the MLB Network, and he was recently named manager of Leones del Escogido, the Dominican winter league club he grew up watching.

Pujols hopes the managing gig in his native country is the first step toward achieving his ultimate goal.

“It’s a new chapter in my life, something that I want to do, and it’s great to be able to do it in your own country for an organization that has won 17 league championships,” Pujols said. “I think of it as an opportunity to hopefully get a job up here in the big leagues some day.”

Pujols played his first 11 years under Tony La Russa in St. Louis, and after signing a 10-year, $240-million deal with the Angels before the 2012 season, he played the next seven years under Mike Scioscia in Anaheim.

Pujols closed out his career playing for Brad Ausmus and Joe Maddon in Anaheim, Dave Roberts in Los Angeles and Oliver Marmol in St. Louis, crushing career homers No. 699 and 700 as a Cardinal in Dodger Stadium on Sept. 23, 2022.

Pujols plans to have dinner in the Phoenix area with La Russa this week, and the conversation will probably sound a lot like the ones the two used to have in the Cardinals’ manager’s office from 2001-11.

“I was always the kind of player who would go into the office with Tony and ask him different questions, about why he did things, and I’m going to pick his brain [this week],” Pujols said. “I think I have a good idea [of how I’d manage], but it doesn’t hurt asking questions of those guys.”

Pujols also plans to spend some time talking to Ron Washington, but the new Angels manager doubts he will have much to offer that Pujols hasn’t already seen or heard.

“I think Albert is one of the smartest guys in the game,” Washington said. “And as far as him managing, I won’t approach him. He has to approach me, because he probably knows more than I do.”

Former Angels slugger Vladimir Guerrero, who led the team to five American League West titles from 2004-09 and was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2018, also joined Pujols as a guest instructor Monday.

Washington hopes Pujols and Guerrero, who combined for 1,152 homers and were among the toughest players he has ever seen, will leave a lasting impression on young Angels players such as catcher Logan O’Hoppe, shortstop Zach Neto and first baseman Nolan Schanuel.

“I think they can [help with] the mental side of it,” Washington said. “Those two guys were the strongest I’ve ever seen. You never saw a weakness in the way they went about their business, and that’s what I want them to infuse in these kids because they haven’t experienced consistency, structure.

“They haven’t experienced that, when their bodies don’t feel right, to keep pushing through it. The way the world is today, when you start feeling something bad with your body, all the medical people want you to shut it down, and the baseball people are saying, ‘Keep going, keep going.’ So I think that’s what Albert and Vlad will bring.”

But some injuries, such as the ones Angels star center fielder Mike Trout has endured in the previous three seasons, are impossible to play through.

Pujols and Trout were full-season Angels teammates from 2012-20, a nine-year stretch in which Trout won three AL MVP awards, finished second in MVP voting four times and was baseball’s best all-around player until Shohei Ohtani arrived in the U.S.

But a calf injury limited Trout to 36 games in 2021, a back injury limited him to 119 games in 2022, and broken hamate bone in his left hand, suffered when he fouled a pitch off July 5, eventually ended his 2023 season.

Pujols can empathize with Trout. He believes he might have hit 800 homers had he not missed so much time in the second half of his career because of a variety of hamstring, knee and foot injuries.

“I’ve seen Mike Trout train, and there’s nobody who trains harder in that locker room,” Pujols said. “But at the end of the day, when you take that field, man, there are some things that you cannot control. One day, you wake up and your back is stiff. I’d get sore when I started lifting weights in the offseason.

“So I know what Mike has gone through, and I’ve spoken to him several times about it. It’s just part of the game. You [reporters] don’t even play, and you get hurt walking around. So it’s tough, especially when you know what you can do when you’re healthy and injuries aren’t allowing you to put up the numbers you want to put up.”

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