Joe Maddon elaborates on Albert Pujols' release: 'I don't mean for this to sound cold'

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JOE MADDON, right, shown with Albert Pujols
Joe Maddon, right, talks with Albert Pujols after being introduced as Angels manager in 2019. (Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

On the day the Angels’ position players assembled for the first time this spring, the wife of Albert Pujols started an Instagram post this way: “Today is the first day of the last season of one of the most remarkable careers in sports.”

What appeared to be the retirement announcement of a Hall of Famer went viral. Pujols himself said he had not decided to retire, and his wife, Deidre, amended the post to reflect what she said she had meant: that this was the first day of the last season of his contract with the Angels.

In retrospect, regardless of her intention, Pujols’ wife had opened a door that her husband shut. Had he been willing to at least consider the retirement option, his departure from the Angels might not have been so unceremonious: scratched from the lineup before a game, cut from the team afterward.

Pedro Martinez and Adrian Beltre each used the word “shameful” in criticizing the Angels’ actions. In an Instagram post, David Ortiz wrote: “l know this is a business but l was expecting someone like you to walk away like you deserve.”

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On Tuesday, Angels manager Joe Maddon suggested Pujols’ ending in Anaheim might have been different if the timing had been different.

A dignified news conference to announce his retirement, or perhaps a farewell tour, might have been in order. But Pujols had said he would not consider retirement until after the season. Maddon said Pujols still wanted to be an everyday first baseman, an option the Angels no longer were willing to entertain.

“It could have been done differently, had it happened in spring training, or even in the last offseason,” Maddon said on the Starkville podcast. “There’s different ways to go about it.

“Had Albert decided that he did not want to play this year, then you could have possibly avoided this completely.”

Maddon said the Angels organization — including himself, general manager Perry Minasian, assistant general manager Alex Tamin and President John Carpino — had to act in its best interest.

“I don’t mean this to sound cold in any way,” Maddon said. “It’s just the way it is. It was a group decision, based on ascending players that needed opportunity and Albert wanting to play every day. We just didn’t see that as being a mix.

“There’s no suitable or good way to do this without offending somebody. Divorce is difficult. There’s never a good time to go through with the act. Sometimes, it organically just has to occur. Then you have to maybe absorb people that don’t understand it, or weren’t there with boots on the ground.”

Maddon said he did not hold a team meeting to discuss the release of Pujols and said no player approached him to discuss it.

Pujols batted .198 in 24 games this season, with five home runs that gave him 667 in his career, fifth all time. He has not been a league-average hitter since 2016.

The Angels are set with Jared Walsh at first base and Shohei Ohtani at designated hitter. Entering Tuesday, Walsh ranked third in the American League in on-base-plus-slugging percentage (OPS). Ohtani ranked 10th.

But if Pujols were willing to be a designated hitter, Maddon said he believes he could help another team.

“As a DH,” Maddon said, “I could see him being very beneficial for a group.”

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.