This article appears in the March 8 issue of ESPN The Magazine.
Everyone asks the man a simple question: Why are you so serious?
The curiosity is legitimate. He exudes sobriety and responsibility, from his penetrating eyes to the facial hair that's groomed like a country-club green. He carries himself with the bearing of an ambassador, upright and stoic and very nearly regal. He emanates gravity.
So back to the question: Why?
Albert Pujols can't begin to explain it; couldn't even if he were big on words, which he assuredly is not. And so he keeps the answer on professional terms, discussing his job and his responsibilities to his teammates and the vast sum of money he is paid by the owners of the St. Louis Cardinals to play first base and drive in runs. Everything we might consider to be an enemy of seriousness -- playing baseball for a living, being great at it, acquiring torrents of wealth in the process -- is the very reason he gives for being as lighthearted as a fallen oak. "You don't mess around on your job," he says. "I'm getting paid a lot of money to play this game, and I know that people are expecting a lot from me. If you're sitting in an office and you're in control of 200 employees and you don't set an example for those employees, do you think they're going to respect you? No."
He is the most feared hitter in baseball, a man whose offensive output is measured not by his peers but by history. His metronomic consistency makes the statistics over his nine-year career look like the product of an unimaginative accountant: home runs between 32 and 49, RBIs between 103 and 137, batting average between .314 and .359. His worst year was 2007, when he hit .327 with
32 homers, 103 RBIs. Repeated annually over the course of a long career, those numbers -- from the season in which he accomplished the least -- would make Pujols a first-ballot Hall of Famer.