The continued greatness of Albert Pujols was not taken for granted as he earned his third NL Most Valuable Player Award in 2009.
One year ago, Albert Pujols’ status for 2009 was under question. He had undergone nerve transposition surgery in his right, throwing elbow before officially collecting the 2008 National League Most Valuable Player Award, his second. By January, pain in the same elbow due to bone spurs led him to require a cortisone injection.
Just as always since Pujols’ 2001 arrival, the 2009 St. Louis Cardinals needed their first baseman to have a competitive club. He did not disappoint, getting out of the gate quickly, winning the April NL Player of the Month honors while leading the Cards to a 16-7 start.
Pujols added one more chapter to his growing legend by breaking the letter “I” in the Big Mac Land sign in left field with a May 21 home run. He put together a record-breaking first half that culminated in him being voted to start in the All-Star Game at Busch Stadium.
Pujols led the Cardinals offense as he has done for nine seasons. In 2009, he was first in the major leagues in runs (124), on-base percentage (.443) and slugging (.658).
Though he endured a career-long home run drought that began on September 9, Pujols still hit a career-high 47 home runs, becoming just the second Cardinal (Mark McGwire, 1998-99) since 1940 (Johnny Mize) to lead Major League Baseball. His .327 average paced the Cardinals for a ninth consecutive season, something no other player has ever done.
Perhaps most impressive was Pujols’ 2009 production with the bases loaded. He batted 10-for-17 (.588) in that situation, setting team single-season (five) and career (11) records for grand slams.
Especially prior to the arrival of Matt Holliday, Pujols was pitched around often. Albert collected a team single-season record (44) intentional walks, surpassing his record 34 from the 2008 season. This also set the MLB record for right-handed hitters.
Defensively, Pujols continued to stand out, breaking the MLB record with 185 assists as a first baseman, despite continued elbow soreness due to bone spurs that required post-season surgery. He secured the record on the final day of the season, surpassing Boston’s Bill Buckner (184 in 1985).
On the bases, Pujols led the Cardinals club and all MLB first basemen with 16 stolen bases. He became just the second player in MLB history to have 100 RBI in each of first nine seasons, joining Hall of Famer Al Simmons (11).
In fact, Pujols is the National League’s Triple Crown winner for the decade, leading in batting average (.334), home runs (366) and RBI (1,112) despite playing in just the final nine seasons.
Concerns over Pujols’ elbow resurfaced on October 21, as he made the decision to undergo surgery to have the bone spurs removed from his right elbow. It was feared by some that Pujols might require immediate Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgery, which would have knocked him out of action for at least the first half of the 2010 season.
Instead, famed surgeon Dr. James Andrews of Birmingham, Alabama said Pujols’ ligament was in good enough shape that he would not need replacement surgery. This was great news, and contrary to previous belief that it would be required at some point to address the problem that first surfaced in 2003.
His post-season awards were numerous, including Player of the Year Awards from Sporting News and Players Choice, The Hank Aaron Award, another Silver Slugger Award and of course, his second consecutive National League Most Valuable Player Award. All 32 voters placed Pujols first on their ballot. In the process, Pujols tied the great Stan Musial with his third MVP Award, most ever by a Cardinal.
For a look at Pujols’ 2009 compared to the rest of his stellar career, check out my October article at The Cardinal Nation entitled, “Scout.com Cardinals 2009 Player of the Year”.
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