07/17/09 — Opinion - Pujols a perfect ambassador

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Opinion - Pujols a perfect ambassador

By Andrew Stevens
Published in Sports on July 17, 2009 1:46 PM

Until now Major League Baseball has been on the outside looking in.

Every other professional sports league in the country has developed athletes it can proudly market and display as the faces of their respective teams.

Meanwhile, baseball remains mired in the midst of steroid controversy and dwindling television ratings.

Peyton Manning and Tom Brady have been the poster boys of the NFL for years now. Tiger Woods is the unquestionable face of golf and NASCAR has turned Dale Earnhardt Jr. into a living legend with no need to win races to keep his fame alive.

Love them or hate them, Kobe Bryant and LeBron James are the best things to happen to the NBA since Michael Jordan and Earvin "Magic" Johnson dominated basketball.

Major League Baseball has longed for an athlete to fill its void of marketable superstar until now. Albert Pujols, arguably the best player in the league and perhaps in quite some time, appears to be that guy.

Pujols' 32 home runs leads all of baseball and his nine consecutive seasons with 30 or more home runs are a Major League record. He also reached 300 career home runs faster than any player in history.

His 87 RBI , 73 runs scored, 71 walks, .456 on-base percentage and .723 slugging percentage are all league highs.

Entering the 2009 season, Pujols had averaged 191 hits, 39 homers and 109 RBI in eight seasons with the St. Louis Cardinals.

Pujols has also delivered when it mattered most, compiling a .323 batting average in 53 postseason games. He's helped guide the Cardinals to a pair of World Series appearances and St. Louis captured a championship in 2006.

Despite having won just one Gold Glove award, Pujols has averaged just over six errors a season and is consistently among the league leaders in fielding percentage.

A 13th-round draft pick in 1999, Pujols made his presence felt as a rookie in 2001 after spending less than two years in the minors. He hit .329 with 37 home runs, 130 RBI, was selected to the All-Star Game and garnered Rookie of the Year honors.

A two-time National League MVP, Pujols means much more to baseball than statistics, towering home runs and ticket sales. In an era where skepticism is as prevalent in ballparks as hot dogs and peanuts, baseball desperately needs guys like Pujols who are willing to take a stand on steroids.

Late last week the St. Louis slugger spoke out against performance-enhancing drugs and said he was tested six times last season. He is willing to be tested every day.

Pujols doesn't have a tattoo, wear earrings, smoke, drink, go to bars or nightclubs and remains outspoken about his faith.

"So many people can't wait until I do something negative," said Pujols. "I can't understand it. That's sad, because I want to be that poster boy in baseball. Just give me the chance."

As role models in professional sports die off faster than pitchers willing to throw complete games, Albert Pujols has become someone baseball can rest its hopes on.

He may never be able to slug his way out from under the unfortunate shadow of doubt cast by the cheaters around him. However, Pujols possesses the integrity to point those watching his every move in the right direction.