Diamond Dirt: Keep Albert Pujols at third base for the time being
About a month ago, I wrote a column about the great Albert Pujols and how he is not only a great baseball player but a great man.
Well it appears Pujols has once again added to his resume of greatness. And he did so by volunteering to play third base Monday night in the first of a two-game series against Philadelphia at Busch Stadium.
Not only did Albert approach Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa with a solution to help the team plagued by a couple of infield injuries, he offered himself to be the temporary fix as his fellow birds mend their wings.
How many other players in Major League Baseball can you name who would do what Pujols did? Truthfully, there aren’t any.
There are a couple of players I would move into a temporary spot given their past.
I’d move Alfonso Soriano to second base if I had to since he was quite the infielder in the early days of his career (although I’d more than likely step in front of a moving bus before I did anything for the Chicago Cubs). I’d put Alex Rodriguez at shortstop if the Yankees were in peril for a game or two, and if the Nationals ran out of pitchers I’d bring in Rick Ankiel from the outfield to take the mound to finish out the game.
But would I expect any of these players to approach their managers and volunteer to help in these positions? Absolutely not.
As great as baseball is, the game is full of insecure players who would freak out the moment they had to play another position. Something about doing something out of the norm in baseball these days just doesn’t sit well. If it did, Willie McGee would’ve played the outfield near the end of the 1996 season and Ron Gant could’ve moved back to second base, a position he held with Atlanta in the early ‘90s, so the Cardinals didn’t have to worry about what Luis Alicea would do to screw up next to eventually cost St. Louis a trip to the World Series.
The only person I would expect any type of positional move suggestion from to help his team is Albert Pujols.
Why would he want to move to third base anyway? He won rookie of the year in that position, sure, but at first base Pujols has been an MVP and a gold-glover.
I’ll tell you why he did it, because he wants his team to win and he’ll do anything to do that. I wouldn’t be surprised if he strapped on the catching gear in the event that both Yadier Molina and Gerald Laird got hurt. Oh yes, there’d more than likely be a kid up from the minors to fill in the roster spot, but who would you trust if the Cardinals did have a crisis behind the plate? I’d trust Pujols. Heck, I’d trust him to manage the team if La Russa takes more time off because of his shingles or if Tony decided to retire after this season, I would highly consider making Pujols a player-manager.
Baseball hasn’t had one since Pete Rose, and clearly, there isn’t anyone else more fit to do so than Pujols if the Cardinals franchise decided to go in that direction. And he wouldn’t be the first Cardinal with that title.
Frankie Frisch was a player-manager for St. Louis from 1933-1937 and the team won the World Series in 1934.
Long story short, given that both David Freese and Skip Schumaker are on the disabled list, the Cardinals need to find a way to fix their hindered infield lineup and Pujols at third base is the best way to do so.
The team already has an experienced first baseman in Lance Berkman and versatility in Pujols and utility man Nick Punto. With Berkman at first, Punto at second, Theriot at short and Pujols at third, St. Louis can have quite the dominant infield until Freese and Schumaker return. In regard to right field, John Jay and Allen Craig are the best fillers while Berkman spends some time at first base.
And when Schumaker returns, which reports say it’s going to be soon, Punto can play every day at third base, Albert can move back to first and Berkman can return to right field.
Now obviously, I’m not La Russa, but if I was this is what I’d do.
There is of course Daniel Descalso and Tyler Greene on the bench, but they don’t appeal to me as everyday players. They’re both just as valuable as Punto, and by using them sparingly they stay healthy and don’t put the Cardinals in any additional tight spots if they end up getting hurt. Punto is a veteran and should be playing everyday until the regular every day players return.
Dominic Genetti writes for the Hannibal (Mo.) Courier-Post.