The Stan Musial Lifetime Achievement Award for Sportsmanship is the pinnacle honor bestowed at the Musial Awards. It recognizes iconic sports figures who exemplify sportsmanship and embody the class, dignity, generosity, excellence, civility and integrity for which Stan the Man was known.
Albert Pujols has known all along that it takes a lifetime to equal Stan Musial’s achievements. Perhaps that’s why he has politely rejected comparisons between himself and The Man – all the while exuding the traits Stan was known and loved for.
When fans in St. Louis wanted to bestow the nickname El Hombre, Spanish for “The Man,” he told reporters in St. Louis, “There is one man that gets that respect, and that’s Stan Musial. He’s The Man. He’s The Man in St. Louis.”
If you were paying attention, though, you know that his first stint with the Cardinals was filled with moments of compassion and grace, aka Musial Moments. He won the Roberto Clemente Award in 2008 for his community involvement and sportsmanship and received a National Sportsmanship Award in 2009, when a Cardinals fan injured himself on a railing while reaching for a foul ball. Albert arrived before paramedics to comfort the man, then calmed the man’s son, born with Down syndrome, while his dad was treated.
But again, when the Angels put up El Hombre billboards to promote his move to Anaheim in 2012, he reiterated: “I’m not comfortable with that, because I believe there’s one Man and, believe it or not, it’s God. God is the Man, and there’s another Man, Stan “The Man” Musial in St. Louis.”
Yet he continued to display his kindness. Just before his return to St. Louis as an Angel in 2019, he made the day of another child with Down syndrome, who was wearing his jersey. Albert spotted him after a game, took off his own game jersey and signed it as well as the jersey the boy was wearing, then took a picture with him.
With his return to St. Louis, his affinity and respect for Stan moved to the forefront. The comparisons became unavoidable, especially because both would retire after 22 seasons and as Albert passed Stan on the all-time MLB lists in total bases, games played and extra base hits.
The joy and verve Albert displayed this season became infectious, and reminiscent of Musial as well. It was obvious as teams showered him and Yadier Molina with official farewell gifts. But his smile and warmth filled the fleeting moments, too: greeting umpires before a game, sharing a handshake and laugh with an opposing second basemen after a force out, obliging home and road crowds with a curtain call after his home runs.
Yadi, his “brother for life,” said after their final game together, “It was a great season. Albert was fun to watch. To watch him come back and do his thing, it was fun.”
His next stop is Cooperstown, where he and Stan will share another home because of their superlative careers. In the end, Albert’s included:
But, like Stan, he knows the mission to spread compassion and love continues. He has never forgotten his roots in the Dominican Republic, “shining shoes, throwing trash every Saturday to bring home some food for my grandma and grandpa and my dad.” And he has experienced the challenges raising a child with Down syndrome. So the Pujols Family Foundation was launched in 2005 with dual goals:
It continues to thrive. Since 2012, the foundation has organized at least 120 events a year: medical missions, proms, holiday parties, music therapy, martial arts, sign language and life skill classes, golf clinics and literacy programs.
“Becoming a great baseball player is important to me, but it is not my primary focus. Because I know the Hall of Fame is not my ultimate, final destination,” he says on the foundation’s web site.
So, finally, the time is right – no, make that perfect − for Albert to accept the comparisons, as well as the Stan Musial Lifetime Achievement Award for Sportsmanship.