Albert Pujols wore Dodger Blue for the first time on Monday, holding a virtual news conference 30 miles north of the ballpark where he spent most of these past nine-plus seasons and speaking 11 days after the Los Angeles Angels released him in the last year of his 10-year, $240 million contract.
Pujols, 41, expressed excitement to join the defending World Series champion Los Angeles Dodgers and said that he holds "no hard feelings" toward the Angels. He reiterated a desire to continue playing, perhaps even beyond this season, and emphasized his willingness to accept what seems like a significantly limited role with the Dodgers.
"I told them I'm here to do whatever -- pinch hit, first base, whatever they want," Pujols said. "I'm just excited to have this opportunity to wear this uniform and glad to be here."
Pujols got loud cheers from a Dodger Stadium crowd of 14,088. He was admittedly nervous heading in, but he calmed down after flying out on the first pitch he saw. In the third inning, with runners on the corners and two outs, he singled up the middle to bring home Mookie Betts on an 0-2 cutter. He was later seen pumping up Walker Buehler after a strenuous fourth inning, and doing the Dodgers' patented celebration of patting their heads after Gavin Lux's eighth-inning RBI single.
"It was pretty awesome -- the atmosphere, the guys in the dugout, the communication in the dugout, just telling ourselves, 'Hey, he's doing this,' 'He's doing that,'" Pujols said after going 1-for-4 and getting subbed out for defense in the ninth inning. "That's pretty awesome. That shows you why this club is a championship ballclub."
When the Angels designated Pujols for assignment on May 6, they stated a desire to make Jared Walsh the everyday first baseman and give Shohei Ohtani the majority of plate appearances at designated hitter. A bench role wasn't necessarily an option for Pujols because, as Angels president John Carpino said, "He wants to play every day at first base."
Pujols' comments contradicted that.
"My goal over the last two years -- it was never to try to be an everyday first baseman," Pujols said. "I told you guys early in spring training -- 'whatever role they have for me I'm gonna go with.' I understand they made that decision, as an organization, a business decision, and no hard feelings. I understand that. They had a talk with me, and that was it. Move forward. And I'm just glad to get another opportunity, wear a different uniform."
Pujols' arrival comes as the Dodgers continue to weather a long list of injuries, most notably to shortstop Corey Seager, who could miss about two months with the fractured right hand he suffered Saturday night. The Dodgers' everyday first baseman, Max Muncy, can play second base, which might be necessary with Gavin Lux becoming the regular shortstop in Seager's absence.
At full strength, the team plans to use Pujols mostly as a late-game pinch hitter, particularly against left-handers, who have given the Dodgers trouble this season. Pujols has had only 41 career plate appearances as a pinch hitter but is confident he can make the adjustment based on his dialogue with president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman and manager Dave Roberts.
"Communication is huge with me," Pujols said. "And that was part of [Roberts] and Andrew's communication with me. And I think having a game plan of what my role is gonna be in this clubhouse -- that's it. If this is gonna be part of my role, then I'm gonna listen, I'm gonna be ready, and I told them I'd be ready, whether it's a day that I don't play, whether it's a day that I feel that it's my time to go up there and try to help this ballclub to win. That's it. I'm really excited. And that's something that I have embraced really well. I'm enjoying the opportunity and gonna try to have fun."
Pujols, who began his career with arguably the greatest 10-year run in baseball history for the St. Louis Cardinals, has been a below-average hitter by park-adjusted OPS for the past five years and was batting .198/.250/.372 in 92 plate appearances this season entering Monday. But he holds an .889 OPS in late-and-close situations and an .878 OPS against lefties in 2021, and his expected .513 slugging percentage suggests he might have run into bad luck. The Dodgers also believe his swing path is more efficient than it has been in recent years.
"We have the utmost respect for what Albert has accomplished in his career, and we also think he can make a real impact with our young players," Friedman said. "And equally as important is we think there's still life to the bat."
Pujols spent most of the past 11 days working out in hopes of joining another team. The Dodgers reached out to his agent, Dan Lozano, shortly after he cleared waivers and was officially released on Thursday, which prompted a virtual meeting with Friedman and Roberts. The goal of that conversation, Friedman said, was "for everyone to be open and honest and transparent, and also acknowledge that we don't know exactly what things are gonna look like a week from now, two weeks from now, a month from now."
Pujols was intrigued by the opportunity to remain in Southern California and the chance to win his third World Series ring, but he also said the Dodgers "had a good game plan for me."
Roberts spoke to Pujols in the clubhouse pregame and noticed a "glow" about him, a sign of his excitement. He later called seeing Pujols in the Dodgers' dugout "surreal."
"I don't use that word very often, but just playing against Albert, seeing him on the other side, coaching, managing against him, and then to see him in our Dodger uniform is really surreal," said Roberts, who will start Pujols at first base again on Tuesday with Justin Turner taking the day off. "But it fit. And it looked normal."
Seager wears No. 5 for the Dodgers, so Pujols, who likes the No. 5 because it symbolizes God's grace in the Christian Bible, switched to No. 55.
Pujols ranks fifth in career homers (667), second in RBIs since they became an official stat in 1920 (2,113) and 14th in hits (3,254). He has won three National League MVP awards, two Gold Gloves and six Silver Sluggers and has been invited to 10 All-Star Games -- and he doesn't want to stop playing.
"I feel like I've still got some gasoline left in my tank," Pujols said. "I'm really excited for this opportunity."