ST. LOUIS—To baseball fans outside of St. Louis, Albert Pujols seems too good to be true. The Dominican’s offensive numbers are borderline absurd.
As Sports Illustrated writer Joe Posnanski points out in the foreword of the soon to be released Thomas Nelson biography entitled Pujols: More than the Game by Tim Ellsworth and Scott Lamb, Pujols has more home runs than Babe Ruth, more hits than Pete Rose, more RBIs than Hank Aaron and more runs than Rickey Henderson did at the same age.
Pujols put up most of those numbers during the steroid era, which automatically makes records like his suspect. And while one cannot disprove a negative, the biography by Ellsworth and Lamb paints a fuller picture of who Pujols is, both on and off the field, and it might just change his naysayers’ minds.
To their credit, the authors show Pujols in all his flawed humanity.
They chronicle the falling out between Pujols and Cardinals’ scout Dave Karaff, who was instrumental in putting Pujols in Cardinal red. They go into detail about his spats with the media and even one with the St. Louis faithful. And they include a story in which Pujols throws a punch at an opposing player and is suspended for two games.
They also chronicle his faith in action, his great work ethic, and his laser-like focus on being the best baseball player possible.
After meeting and then marrying Deidre, a single mother of a small child named Isabella who has Down syndrome, it didn’t take him long to want to make a difference in the lives of other Down syndrome children.
The book recounts a story about the 2006 Buddy Walk in the Park Day – the day children with Down syndrome get to be the center of attention by going out on the field at Busch Stadium during pregame ceremonies. As Pujols walked among the children, one boy had a request for Pujols. He wanted a home run.
“I’ll see what I can do,” Pujols said with a smile.
Many other Down syndrome children made the same request. Pujols doesn’t have super powers. He’s not able to hit home runs on command. But God has an especially soft heart for children. Maybe that’s why Pujols was able to hit two home runs that day, making the children who requested one feel as if he did it just for them.
“Pujols believes devotion to Jesus Christ is what has fueled him to excel in baseball,” the book says in Chapter One. “It’s what has driven his philanthropy and generosity to those less fortunate.”
Such faith was shaped in two Baptist churches. Before signing with St. Louis, Pujols attended Kansas City Baptist Temple, an Independent Baptist congregation. After he joined the Cardinals, he came under the discipleship of Pastor Phil Hunter at West County Community Church, a Missouri Baptist Convention church near St. Louis.
As Pujols’ faith grew, his desire to express it tangibly grew, too.
By 2004, Pujols’ fourth season in the league, he was established as a premier hitter and for the first time, he began making big money. He signed a 7-year, $100 million contract and Albert and Deidre began praying for ways to make a difference in the lives of those around them.
They met a man named Todd Perry who had a vision for a Pujols foundation. It was the answer they had been praying for and the Pujols Family Foundation (PFF) launched in 2005 – created to help people with Down syndrome, people with disabilities and/or life threatening illnesses, and children and families living in impoverished conditions in the Dominican Republic.
Less than two years later, the PFF sponsored a team of dentists who traveled to the Dominican Republic. Many of the children needed to be comforted during dental procedures.
“So often, Albert was in the medical area, down on his knees wiping the tears from their eyes and speaking to them in Spanish,” the authors quote Dick Armington of Compassion International as saying.
Stories like these abound in the book, giving us a glance behind the scenes at the life of a man, flawed as he may be, who lives out the Gospel.
Ellsworth and Lamb are unabashed Cardinal fans, but that didn’t stop them from doing their homework. They talked to many coaches, spiritual leaders, broadcasters, and players who know Pujols. They even tackled the steroid question – providing 20 reasons to believe Pujols is clean. The Cardinal star owns a restaurant that offers alcoholic beverages, raising concern among some Southern Baptists.
Some might say there is too much baseball in this book. Others might say there is too much Jesus. But the truth is, we wouldn’t know who Albert Pujols is without baseball and he wouldn’t know who he is without Jesus. So, the balance feels perfect.
LEE WARREN/contributing writer