Pujols named All-Star for sixth time
Slugger one of seven players selected by NL skipper La Russa
CINCINNATI -- Perception rates Albert Pujols as a young pup in the grand old game. The reality is beginning to sink in, though, that Pujols is very much a part of baseball's established royalty.
Pujols will make his sixth All-Star Game appearance in next week's Midsummer Classic after he was named a manager's selection to the National League squad. Pujols has only missed being an All-Star selection once in his seven-season career, and only Ken Griffey Jr. and Barry Bonds have more selections among the hitters on this year's NL team.
"Every year, I hear a lot of people who say they're tired from being in so many, but I don't look at it like that," Pujols said. "I look at it as an honor. It's a reward that, at the end of your career, you look back and say, 'Wow!'"
However, Pujols and Cardinals manager Tony La Russa, who is helming the National League All-Star team in San Francisco on July 10, won't have a lot of company when they travel to the West Coast. Pujols is the only Cardinals All-Star for 2007.
Pujols was one of seven manager's selections on the NL roster, and he'll be one of four first basemen representing the Senior Circuit. It's only the second time Pujols will not be in the starting lineup. Though not elected by fans to start in 2005, Pujols was in the lineup that season as the NL's designated hitter at Comerica Park in Detroit.
Pujols will go to the Midsummer Classic for the fifth straight season. He began the year somewhat slowly but came on strong in June, burnishing his resume for selection by putting up his best month of the year. Well-established as possibly the game's best player, Pujols would have been an extremely tough player to leave off the roster, even in a relatively subdued season.
"Right now, with so many talented young players in the league, so many good players, it's pretty tough to be an All-Star," Pujols said. "Getting an opportunity six out of seven years in my career is an honor. I'm going to enjoy it like I always do and have fun. I'm looking forward to meeting other players and sharing with them. That's the main thing."
By any reasonable standard, Pujols is having a brilliant season; he's simply not yet lived up to his own high standards. Pujols entered Sunday's game against Cincinnati batting .306 with a .409 on-base percentage and a .534 slugging percentage. He has 16 home runs, 48 RBIs and 45 runs scored for the third-place Cardinals.
In his five previous trips to the All-Star Game, Pujols is 4-for-11 with two doubles, a walk, three RBIs and a run scored.
Two other Cardinals who could make a reasonably strong case for selection missed the cut. Closer Jason Isringhausen is having a strong, bounce-back season, but he was not one of the seven relief pitchers named to the squad. La Russa pointed to tactical reasons as well as merit when it came down to choosing Mets lefty Billy Wagner over the St. Louis closer.
"I just don't think you can play that game with one left-handed reliever," La Russa said.
Catcher Yadier Molina's bid was likely derailed when he missed four weeks due to a broken bone in his left wrist. Only two catchers, Russell Martin and Brian McCann, are on the National League team.
"I think he'd have had a chance to be one of the two [if he had not been injured]," said La Russa. "The fans picked one, the players picked one and we went with two. [When] you start looking at the other issues about filling spots, it's tough to take a third catcher. I just don't think it's possible. But I think if he hadn't been hurt, he would have been a serious contender to be one of the two."
Besides Pujols, other players named by La Russa as manager's selections were Dmitri Young, Freddy Sanchez, Aaron Rowand, Takashi Saito, Jose Valverde and Billy Wagner.
St. Louis had sent multiple representatives to the All-Star Game in each of the past four seasons. The last time the Redbirds had just one All-Star was 2002, when Matt Morris was the lone Cardinal in Milwaukee. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the only other time that the defending world champions have had only one All-Star was 1998, when Edgar Renteria represented the Marlins.
"That was commented on," La Russa said. "But we haven't played really well. I would say the guy that deserved the same kind of consideration was [Isringhausen], and we just haven't been ahead in many games. He got [consideration], but Valverde, you can't ignore what he's done, and Saito. So we took those two, and you need to have a lefty besides [Brian] Fuentes."
The 78th Major League Baseball All-Star Game will be televised nationally by FOX Sports, in Canada by Rogers Sportsnet and Sportsnet HD and televised around the world by Major League Baseball International, with pregame ceremonies beginning at 7 p.m. CT. ESPN Radio will provide exclusive national radio coverage, while MLB.com will provide extensive online coverage. XM will provide satellite radio play-by-play coverage of the XM All-Star Futures Game.
The 2003 season marked the introduction of the Player Ballot to the All-Star selection process. Each league's players, managers and coaches elect eight position players and eight pitchers from their league. Catchers and infielders who finish in the top two at their position on the Player Ballot, and outfielders among the top six, are assured of making the All-Star Team. In instances where the winners of the Player Ballot are also fan-elected starters, the player with the next highest amount of votes on the Player Ballot makes the All-Star Team. Eight pitchers -- five starters and three relievers - become All-Stars through the Player Ballot. The manager of each World Series team from the prior season - in this year's case, Detroit's Jim Leyland and St. Louis' Tony La Russa -- then fills the remaining slots on their respective teams, ensuring that one player from all 30 clubs is named to the All-Star Game.
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.