On the eve of the 2012 championship season -- what some call "the regular season", even though there's nothing at all regular about it -- we all knew the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim featured an outstanding American League Most Valuable Player candidate.
We just didn't know who it was. We didn't know it was Mike Trout, in part because Mike Trout wasn't even considered good enough to merit a spot on the Angels' Opening Day roster. This misjudgement probably did not cost the Angels a postseason berth; they fell four games short of the money, and Trout's absence for three weeks probably didn't cost the Angels four wins. The Angels' presumed MVP candidate hurt them more ...
The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim opened the 2012 championship season with the largest payroll in the American League West: $151 million. They wound up finishing in third place, behind not only the Rangers and their $121 million, but also the Athletics and their $53 million. The winter before, the Angels had gone after a big whale and reeled him in, signing Albert Pujols for 10 years and $240 million.
Pujols was coming off an off-year with the Cardinals, but of course an off-year for Pujols would be a career year for almost anybody else, and there were good reasons to think Pujols would rank among the American League's very best players. And one of those reasons was that he utterly destroyed all sorts of baseballs in spring training, his first in the desert.
And then the season began. And Albert Pujols didn't hit. And the Angels didn't win. And Albert Pujols kept not hitting. And the Angels kept not winning.
When the 22nd of May dawned, presumed MVP candidate Albert Pujols was hitting .212/.256/.318 and his presumed postseason team was 18-25.
And on the 22nd of May, everything changed. Albert Pujols started hitting, and the Orange County Angels started winning. From that date through the end of the season, Pujols batted .314/.376/.593 and the Angels went 71-48, the third-best record in the American League over that span.
It just wasn't quite good enough.
Now, it's not fair to pin the Angels' also-ran finish on Pujols. Even if he'd batted .314/.376/.593 for the whole season, the Angels might not have won those four extra games they needed. They might have needed that from Pujols and a whole April from Trout. And I'll mention that Pujols was just the fifth-highest-paid Angel on the Opening Day roster; his big salaries don't really start kicking in until 2014.
But Albert Pujols was the highest-profile player on a highly paid roster that was supposed to be in the playoffs. And that roster underachieved for exactly as long as Pujols underachieved. Which makes him, in my book, the perfect Player of the Year.
In case you missed any previous entries in this EXCITING SERIES, here's the archive.