Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Cardinals Move Albert Pujols Into Harm's Way

Cardinals first basemen Albert Pujols has easily borne the mantle of Superman since the first moment of his arrival from the planet Krypton, but every Superman has his kryptonite and  Pujols is no exception.

Ever since his .329 batting average and 37 home runs in his rookie year,  observers have tended to forget that not long after he burst onto the scene he sustained a grade 3 tear in the ulnar collateral ligament of  his right elbow.

Though Pujols has undergone a number of arthroscopic and other collateral surgical procedures and various cleanups since then,  the tear to his "Tommy John ligament" remains manifest and continues to present a threat to his playing ability, especially if he expends significant energy throwing across the diamond from third base to first base.

Thus it seems peculiar that the Cardinals have acquiesced to Pujols' volunteering to play the hot corner,  rather than staying strictly at his much less demanding first base position.

Exercise and other rehabilitative reconditioning has built up enough strength in the remaining,  or untorn,   strands of ligament to provide adequate strength for normal,  everyday activity, but not necessarily enough for playing baseball.

 As long as Pujols plays first base, he might be able to get by,  and so he has.  But in intense, pressure situations throwing hard from third base,  his elbow could come apart at any time.

Let's repeat that one more time:  his elbow could come apart at any time.  In other words,  he could be one throw away from a trip to the 60-day disabled list,  even perhaps from a potential career ending injury.

Certainly one would think that the Cardinals have not only the team's but also Pujols' best interests in determining how to best position him on the field,  but the unexpected move to third base, however intermittent,  begs the question: Can it be possible that the team is willing to risk his health knowing that he very likely will leave the Cardinals when his contract expires at the end of this year?

Parish the thought, but fact remains that the most prudent medical decision would be to keep Albert Pujols strictly at first base,  and better yet, if he does go elsewhere next season, transform him into an American League designated hitter.