The Morning Column: September 8, 2021
Albert Pujols becoming fan favorite and clubhouse favorite “Tío Albert” for the Dodgers this season has been one of the more remarkable transformations in recent memory.
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1. ⚾️ Tío Albert’s storybook homecoming
In Joan Manuel Serrat’s 1971 song, “Tío Alberto,” he sings about a man who has been through it all and while his best days are behind him, still has a smile on his face.
“He sampled all the wines,
He went through a thousand roads
And docked from port to port.
Between rags and riches,
Between lies and promises,
He still knows how to smile.
He gives everything that he can give.
His house is an open place.
Whoever wants to enter, has a meal on the table.”
Albert Pujols becoming fan favorite and clubhouse favorite “Tío Albert” for the Dodgers this season has been one of the more remarkable transformations in recent memory. Pujols was waived by the Angels four months ago while in the last year of his 10-year, $240 million contract. His performance had steadily declined over the past four years and not even longtime manager and friend Tony La Russa was willing to take a flyer on him as a designated hitter with the Chicago White Sox.
“There is no fit here,” unfortunately,” La Russa said at the time.
The White Sox were the favorites to land Pujols at +200 because of the La Russa connection, according to multiple offshore sportsbooks which put out lines on Pujols’ next team. The next in line were the A’s (+350), Indians (+500), Blue Jays (+700), Royals (+900), Cardinals (+1500) and no team (+2000).
He signed with the Dodgers on May 17 for the prorated major league minimum, which was $432,447, while the Angels were on the hook for the remainder of his $30 million salary this season. It didn’t take long for Pujols to show what he could do on the field. He was the starting first baseman the same day he signed his one-year deal and three days later hit his first home run for the Dodgers. In 182 plate appearances for the Dodgers, he is batting .260 (his best average since 2016) with 12 home runs, but it’s not so much his on-field performance that has endeared him to fans and teammates. Pujols’ has become the team’s lovable uncle or tío. He’s one of the first ones to greet his teammates with a big smile and a bigger hug after they hit a home run. He’s also an invaluable sounding board and source of wisdom for younger players on the team, soaking up every pearl from the 10-time All-Star, 3-time MVP, 2-time World Series champion and future first ballot hall of famer.
“Albert probably cheers for his teammates more than anybody,” Chris Taylor said earlier this season. “It seems like he’s so genuinely happy for everyone. He’s more happy for you than you are for yourself. Knowing that and coming in, seeing him waiting for you to give you a big bear hug is a pretty cool feeling.”
Another chapter in Pujols’ storybook season with the Dodgers was written Tuesday night when he returned to Busch Stadium in St. Louis for just the second time since leaving a decade ago. The 41-year-old Pujols garnered a nearly 41-second standing ovation when he came to the plate in the first inning before hitting home run No. 679 (fifth all-time) off of J.A. Happ to give the Dodgers a 1-0 lead.
“Getting a standing ovation and then homering in that first at-bat. Storybook,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “I'm a firm believer that the game honors you. The way Albert's played the game for so long, the right way, that's the way it was supposed to go."
2. 🏈 RIP Sam Cunningham
Former USC fullback Sam “Bam” Cunningham died Tuesday at his home in Inglewood at the age of 71. Cunningham did more to integrate college football programs in the South than anyone else. He ran for 135 yards and two touchdowns to lead an integrated USC team to a 42-21 blowout win over an all-white Alabama team on Sept. 12, 1970. The game, which took place in front of 72,175 at Legion Field in Birmingham, Alabama, was scheduled by Alabama coach Bear Bryant after talking to his friend and USC coach John McKay. It was the first time an integrated team had ever played in the State of Alabama. ESPN looked back at the significance of that game and Cunningham’s performance last year for the 50th anniversary.
3. 🏀 Paul Pierce on ESPN firing
Sports Illustrated’s Chris Mannix had a wide-ranging interview with Paul Pierce as the Boston Celtics great and Inglewood High School product gets ready to go into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame this weekend.
One of the more interesting tidbits was on ESPN firing Pierce in April for posting an Instagram live with strippers. Pierce didn’t apologize for the video then and he’s not doing so now.
“I was done with them, anyway,” Pierce said. “It wasn’t a great fit. There’s a lot of stuff over there that you can’t say. And you have to talk about LeBron [James] all the time.”
4. 🥊 Trump on Triller
Just when you thought the hastily arranged boxing match between 58-year-old Evander Holyfield, who hasn’t fought in a decade and wasn’t scheduled to fight as of last week, and 44-year-old mixed martial artist Vitor Belfort could get any more bizarre, well, enter Donald Trump. The former President of the United States and his son, Donald Trump Jr., have signed on to do commentary on Triller for the fight Saturday from the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood, Florida. Belfort was originally supposed to fight Oscar De La Hoya at Staples Center but that fight was scrapped after De La Hoya was hospitalized with COVID-19 last week.
5. 💵 Odds and Ends Powered by Bovada
Here are some odds on Bovada if you’re thinking about placing a wager today:
6. 📆 Sept. 8, 2020: LeBron James secures NBA postseason victory record
One year ago, LeBron James won his NBA-record 162nd postseason game when the Lakers beat the Houston Rockets, 112-102, in Game 3 of the Western Conference Semifinals. He surpassed former Lakers guard Derek Fisher, who has 161 postseason wins. James scored a game-high 36 points and Rajon Rondo added 21 points to help spark the Lakers fourth quarter comeback. Russell Westbrook, who will now team with James and Rondo, put up 30 points, 8 rebounds and 6 assists in the game.
7. 🎂 Happy Birthday Matt Barkley
Happy birthday to Matt Barkley. The former USC quarterback was born 31 years ago today in Newport Beach. Barkley was USC’s starting quarterback from 2009-2012 and navigated the program through the aftermath of sanctions that included a two-year bowl ban and the loss of 30 scholarships. He is currently on the Tennessee Titans and has played for the Chicago Bears, Arizona Cardinals, San Francisco 49ers, Cincinnati Bengals and Buffalo Bills during his NFL career.
8. 🎟 Ticket Time Powered by StubHub
Here are the “get in” prices for tickets if you’re thinking about going to a game today:
9. 📺 On The Air
⚾️ 4:45 p.m. – Los Angeles Dodgers at St. Louis Cardinals – SportsNet LA
⚾️ 5 p.m. – Los Angeles Angels at San Diego Padres – Bally Sports West
10. 📻 The Arash Markazi Show
On Tuesday’s show, we talked about DeAndre Jordan being the latest NBA All-Star to join the Lakers and UCLA scoring a big win over LSU at the Rose Bowl on Saturday.
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That’s it for today. Talk to you on tomorrow!