Legends are made not only by their deeds, but the stories behind them. We’re sharing the stories of today’s sports legends, who defied all odds to wow the world — not unlike the heroes and villains of DC's Legends of Tomorrow. DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, Series Premiere Thursday Jan. 21 at 8/7c on The CW. Check out the trailer here.
At the peak of his powers, Albert Pujols was described as something other than human. From his rookie season in 2001 through 2010, he was so unerringly efficient at all things baseball that fans called him The Machine. It was an apt nickname, given the way Pujols, now 35, seemed to outperform the mere mortals in Major League Baseball. Versatile in the field, he played first and third bases and in the outfield for the St. Louis Cardinals, winning two Gold Glove awards for his stellar defense, in 2002 and 2006. And he was disciplined at the plate, striking out only 9.5 percent of the time and hitting a whopping 408 of his 560 home runs to date.
But his rise to stardom wasn't exactly a foregone conclusion. Jose Alberto Pujols Alcantara was born on January 16, 1980, in Santo Domingo, the capital city of the Dominican Republic. He grew up poor, raised largely by his grandmother and in the company of several aunts and uncles. His father, who was a hometown softball hero, was a sometimes-present figure who passed down his love of the game to his young son.
In 1996, the family migrated first to New York then settled in Missouri. The small-town setting helped young Albert focus on his studies and baseball. In high school, his fielding and hitting skills improved rapidly but few pro scouts noticed. Instead, he finished early to enroll at Maple Woods Community College, a nearby junior college where he further developed his game. He hoped the decision would boost his stock in the 1999 draft. He was overlooked until the 13th round, when the Cards selected him as the 402nd overall pick.
"We all saw Albert about the same way," said Allard Baird, who was then general manager of the Kansas City Royals. "We weren't sure he had a position. He didn't have a great baseball body. We all saw him the same way, and we were all wrong."
The perceived snub only fueled his ambition to prove his big-league worth. After a single year tearing up the minors, Pujols earned a call up, made the opening day roster and homered in the home opener. His regular season stats that year — a .329 batting average, 194 hits, 37 homers, 47 doubles, 130 RBIs, and 112 runs scored — made him the unanimous vote-getter for National League Rookie of the Year award.
That blockbuster inaugural season with Cardinals was just the beginning. Over the next ten seasons, Pujols won three NL MVP awards, was named an All-Star nine times, and helped St. Louis win two World Series championships. After the 2011 season, he joined the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, signing a 10-year, $254 million contract as a free agent even as his production showed signs of decline due to injury and advancing age. He hit just 17 homers and batted a career-low .258 in just 99 games during the 2013 season. Maybe the Machine was just a regular dude after all, critics grumbled.
But last season, the slugger had a resurgence, racking up respectable numbers (40 homers, 95 RBIs with a .244 batting average) that would make most players happy. The future Hall of Famer is proving he still has plenty of power to finish strong.
Illustrations by Joshua Ariza.