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Chris Ruddick, MLB Editor
St. Louis, MO (Sports Network) - There are a few things I have learned here in my short time in St. Louis. One is it's really hot, two there is apparently no open container laws and finally Albert Pujols is 10 feet tall, weighs two-tons, breathes fire, can eat a hammer and take a shotgun blast standing.
With all due respect to New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter, last year's All-Star Game was a celebration of the final year of Yankee Stadium. As nice as Busch Stadium is, there is no question that Pujols was the centerpiece of this year's Mid-Summer Classic.
You can't go more than two feet without seeing a Pujols jersey or hearing someone talk about him. In my short ride from the airport to my hotel, five different radio stations mentioned something about the two-time MVP.
Hearing him introduced on Tuesday was definitely something to behold. I didn't think hearing Jeter announced at last year's game would ever be topped, but the way St. Louis welcomed El Hombre surpassed that and then some.
There is no doubt St. Louis loves him. And why not? With a league-leading 32 home runs and 87 RBI, he is well on his way to a third Most Valuable Player Award, and more importantly he has the Cards atop the NL Central standings.
But when it is all said and done will Pujols be remembered in St. Louis alongside Stan Musial, or Mark McGwire?
Musial, who is reportedly not in the best of shape from a health standpoint, is about as classy a former player as you are going to find. It was also his night. It may not have been Ted Williams special, but that is probably the way Musial would have liked it.
While Musial was the centerpiece of the emotional pregame ceremony, there was nary a mention of McGwire, whose heroics with the Cardinals led to the stadium that the game was played in tonight to be built. Actually the only times Big Red even crossed my mind was when I was driving to my hotel on a stretch of 1-70 East named Mark McGwire Highway.
When I talk to my kids about Pujols am I going to be able to talk glowingly about him the way my father speaks of Musial? Or am I going to have to explain that Pujols was great...but, like I am going to have to do with Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, McGwire, Manny Ramirez, Alex Rodriguez and countless others when it is all said and done?
At the All-Star Game in San Francisco back in 2007 I found it funny to hear people speak the way they did about Barry Bonds. It was as if fans in the Bay Area had never heard of BALCO. They talked about him as if there wasn't anything else going on.
I almost get the same feeling about fans here in St. Louis. Not that there is any evidence linking Pujols to anything, but after you were burned before, wouldn't you be a bit skeptical?
I guess it is not the time nor place for any of that, this was a celebration of the best all-around player in the game today. And he is. You can have Rodriguez, Hanley Ramirez, Chase Utley, whoever, Albert Pujols is the guy I want on my team.
Forget his heroics on the diamond, hearing him talk the past couple of days, he is a guy who just gets it. He knows who he is and he embraces it. I don't get the same type of arrogance from him that I get with A-Rod. He is just a more likeable guy.
I have to admit, just being here and feeling the love for Pujols, I want him to be the guy.
Normally I subscribe to the guilty until proven innocent theory when it comes to baseball players and performance enhancing drugs and Pujols was no exception. Especially when a few years back his trainer was linked to noted- PED user Jason Grimsley. Nothing came of it, though, and I don't think anything ever will.
I think Pujols is clean. Maybe it is wishful thinking, or maybe I just want someone to believe in.
Is Albert Pujols the one to "save" the game? I don't know. But, he is a God in St. Louis and from what I am told, he can win a game of Connect Four in only three moves.
CRAWFORD STEALS THE SHOW
As much as fans wanted Pujols, or even Yadier Molina, to be named MVP for the 80th Mid-Summer Classic, that honor went to Tampa Bay outfielder Carl Crawford, whose game-saving catch highlighted the American League's 4-3 win.
Crawford was just 1-for-3 in the contest, but robbed Colorado's Brad Hawpe of a home run with the score tied at 3-3 in the seventh.
You could have given the whole AL pitching staff the award, as they retired 20 of the final 22 NL batters they faced, helping the Junior Circuit push its record unbeaten streak to 13 games (12-0-1).
Oddly enough there was not a home run hit for the third straight All-Star Game in St. Louis.
HOT RUMOR MAKING THE ROUNDS
There was a hot Toronto Blue Jays rumor making the rounds that did not include Roy Halladay. Apparently Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi is once again talking with the Pittsburgh Pirates about acquiring left-hander Paul Maholm for outfielder Alex Rios.
There is no way this deal goes down. Rios has approximately $62 million remaining on his seven-year, $69.835-million contract he signed prior to last season, while Maholm is in the first year of a three-year, $14.5-millon contract with a $9.75-million option for 2012.
Ricciardi loves Maholm and actually came close to pulling the trigger on the same exact deal at the 2005 Winter Meetings in Dallas.
I can't imagine the Pirates taking on that kind of contract, though.
If the Bucs are looking for an outfielder so bad, why did they deal Jason Bay? Or Xavier Nady? Or Nate McLouth? From what I hear, though, they desperately want a right- handed power bat to, at some point, pair with left-handed slugger Pedro Alvarez.
Again, Jason Bay?
FIRST HALF AWARDS
AL MVP - JOE MAUER, MINNESOTA
I know he missed the first month of the season, but the dude was hitting close to .400 up until recently. If you wanted to pick his teammate Justin Morneau I would have had no problem, but I am going with the catcher. Since returning from his DL stint to start the year, Mauer has put on a clinic offensively, hitting .373 with an already career-best 15 home runs and 49 RBI.
AL CY YOUNG - ZACK GREINKE, KANSAS CITY
What Zack Greinke has had to overcome is nothing short of remarkable when you consider the way he has pitched this season for the once-again horrific Royals. It was nearly a month into the season before Greinke even allowed an earned run and he hasn't slowed down since, with a league-leading ERA of 2.12. Not to mention he is 10-5 with a league-high five complete games for the 37- win Royals.
AL ROOKIE - ANDREW BAILEY, OAKLAND
Detroit's Rick Porcello and Toronto's Ricky Romero also have strong cases, but they were home watching the All-Star Game on Tuesday, while Oakland closer Andrew Bailey was being introduced. Armed with a ton of young talented arms, Bailey often gets overlooked, but the 25-year-old right-hander has been a saving grace for the Oakland bullpen, saving 10 games after replacing Brad Ziegler in the role early on.
AL MANAGER - MIKE SCIOSCIA, LA ANGELS
For my money Mike Scioscia is the best manager in baseball and this year he is showing why. Forget the Nick Adenhart tragedy, Scioscia has had to deal with starters John Lackey, Ervin Santana, Joe Saunders and Kelvim Escobar all serving time on the disabled list. Not to mention he is currently dealing with Vladimir Guerrero and Torii Hunter on the shelf, yet his team headed into the break a game and a half in front of the Texas Rangers in the AL West.
NL MVP ALBERT PUJOLS, ST. LOUIS
I don't see him falling off, plus the Cards could be in the postseason. He will move into rarified air with a second straight MVP and third overall.
NL CY YOUNG TIM LINCECUM, SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS
What can you say about the Freak? Lincecum has followed up his Cy Young season of 2008 with an even better year. The NL's All-Star starter has a record of 10-2 with a 2.33 ERA and a league-best 149 strikeouts in 18 starts this season. He's won his last four starts and in his last outing on Thursday took a no-hitter into the seventh inning before also having a streak of 29 consecutive scoreless innings stopped.
NL ROOKIE - COLBY RASMUS
St. Louis outfielder Colby Rasmus leads all rookies with 11 home runs and is hitting .333 since the start of June. He filled in admirably when Rick Ankiel went down, now manager Tony La Russa has to find a spot to keep him in the lineup everyday.
NL MANAGER - TONY LA RUSSA
Speaking of La Russa, he has been the league's best manager so far. I know it is easy when you have the best player on the planet, but with the Chicago Cubs in the NL Central, St. Louis was looked at as nothing more than a wild card contender at best heading into the season. Well Chicago has struggled and St. Louis has taken advantage, leading the division by 2 1/2 games over the Milwaukee Brewers. If they get another starting pitcher before the deadline they could be dangerous come playoff time.
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