MLB playoff race has brought 'the joy back' for the Los Angeles Dodgers' Albert Pujols

AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

LOS ANGELES -- A couple of months ago, with the season quickly advancing and clarity lagging behind it, Albert Pujols put it to a vote. He gathered his wife and his five children and went around the room asking each of them the same question:

Is it time to retire?

Only one family member voted for 2021 to be Pujols' final year in the big leagues: his youngest daughter, 9-year-old Esther Grace, who wants more time at home with Dad. Everybody else wanted Pujols to keep going into his age-42 season in 2022, either because they think he can still do this, or because they want him to reach 700 home runs, or because they can't imagine life any other way.

Pujols, 41, still doesn't know, and he is intent on waiting until he does.

"The last thing I wanna do is sit at home a year from now and say, 'Damn, why did I just do that?'" he says. "I wanna make sure that this is it, because I don't wanna be like, 'Shoot,' and then try to come back. When I say I'm done, I'm done."

It was a warm Tuesday afternoon at a quiet Dodger Stadium, several weeks after the family vote. In 30 minutes, Pujols would engage in his customary two-hour workout. In four hours, the first pitch would be thrown in another game he would not start. This is his life now, in the third decade of one of the most accomplished careers in baseball history. After a dominant 11-year run with the St. Louis Cardinals and an arduous nine-plus seasons with the Los Angeles Angels, Pujols -- one of only three men to reach 600 homers, 3,000 hits and 2,000 RBIs -- is a pinch-hitting specialist for a Los Angeles Dodgers team that is among the most decorated in recent memory.