At his last MLB All-Star Game, 42-year-old 'legend' Albert Pujols is the man of the hour

LOS ANGELES – He no longer is the biggest star in the game.

He’s not even an everyday player in his final season in a city that adores him.

His first-half statistics hardly measure up with all of the other All-Stars who will be on stage Tuesday night (8 p.m. ET, FOX), but there is no one who is more revered and more respected, easily commanding the most attention by his peers.

Albert Pujols of the St. Louis Cardinals.

And unquestionably the greatest player who will appear in Tuesday’s game at Dodger Stadium.

National League All-Star manager Brian Snitker told USA TODAY Sports he will ask Pujols to address the team before the game, but hadn't told Pujols yet.

“I had no idea but I’ll be ready now that you told me!’’ Pujols said. “I’m not shy. I’ll talk to them," Pujols said. "I’m going to let them know that you better appreciate this because it could be your last.

“You never know.’’

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Pujols, who bought 28 tickets for the game, bringing in his mom and brother from Panama, basked in the spotlight as if he still was winning three MVP awards, with four runner-up finishes and 10 top-five finishes from 2001-2011.

Even if Pujols wanted to just blend in, simply grateful to commissioner Rob Manfred for adding him and Tigers great Miguel Cabrera as “legend picks’’ to the All-Star Game, no one would let him.

Albert Pujols reached the semifinals of the Home Run Derby at Dodger Stadium.
Albert Pujols reached the semifinals of the Home Run Derby at Dodger Stadium.

He was in the middle of the first round of the Home Run Derby when he found himself swarmed by the entire American League and National League All-Stars by home plate.

He won the first round of the derby in a tiebreaker over Philadelphia Phillies slugger Kyle Schwarber, and lost in the semifinals to 23-year-old Juan Soto, who won the derby. Pujols is 42 years old and hit his first major-league homer when Seattle Mariners rookie All-Star Julio Rodriguez was 98 days old.

There won’t be a player on the field Tuesday who has ever done it better.

He has the most home runs (685) by any active player, fifth-most of all-time.

The most hits (3,333) of any active player, ninth all-time.

The most RBI (2,170) by any active player, second of all-time.

The most doubles (678) by any active player, fifth of all-time.

The most total bases (6,096), third of all-time.

We can go on and on.

“This guy is the best player to ever play the game,’’ San Diego Padres third baseman Manny Machado said. “No one has done what he’s done for the first 10 years with the Cardinals, and what he’s done for this league. It’s going to be an honor to be with him here for his last one.

“He’s just a special human being.’’

NL All-Star first baseman C.J. Cron was emotional  talking about Pujols. Cron was a first base prospect in the Angels organization when the club signed Pujols to a 10-year, $240 million contract, but Pujols continued to encourage him, inspire him and all these years  later he’s an All-Star for the first time.

“I just learned so much from him," Cron said. “I don't know if I would be here without that whole situation. It all worked out perfectly.

“To have my first All-Star game being Albert’s last, it’s a pretty cool feeling.’’

Juan Soto hugs Albert Pujols after defeating him in the Home Run Derby semifinals.
Juan Soto hugs Albert Pujols after defeating him in the Home Run Derby semifinals.

Seattle Mariners first baseman Ty France requested that clubhouse attendants order a Pujols jersey for him to get autographed at the All-Star Game, but when France wasn’t an original All-Star selection, he feared his dream signing would never happen.

But there he was, a last-minute addition, and France couldn’t wait to get the Pujols jersey signed and hung prominently in his home.

“To do what he’s done, for the amount of time he’s been in the game is pretty wild,’’ France said. "t’s unbelievable.’’

Milwaukee Brewers Cy Young winner Corbin Burnes grew up in Orange County and a was in junior high school when Pujols signed with the Angels in 2011. Who’d imagine that 11 years later they would be All-Star teammates?

“I grew up an Angels fan, so I’ve been a big fan,’’ Burnes said. “He’s still a dangerous hitter, even at his age. It’s pretty special.’’

You know you’re a living legend when players still are studying and scrutinizing his swing trying to get tips.

“I’m a big Albert Pujols fan and I'm still watching his swing to this day,’’ said Yankees slugger Aaron Judge. "Getting the chance to share the same field with him is going to be an honor.

“To say I was in the same All-Star game as Albert Pujols, I’ll be able to tell my kids about that stuff.

“I already got a nice jersey of his hanging in the man cave, but I may have to get another.’’

It’s been this way since Pujols arrived into town Sunday night, with All-Stars acting like kids, snapping pictures of Pujols, having him sign baseballs and bats, and soaking up every piece of knowledge they can get.

“My first All-Star Game was the last one for Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken Jr., and that made it so special,” Pujols said. "Getting to see how those guys were idolized and admired for the way that they played the game always stuck with me.

“So I’m enjoying it as much as I can. Sharing the locker room with so many superstars, future Hall of Famers one last time, I’m just totally blessed.’’

The Cardinals’ players certainly don’t take Pujols’ presence for granted. They know what he means to the franchise. They realize the Cardinals one day will be erecting a statue of him outside Busch Stadium. And in a few years, he’ll be inducted into Cooperstown.

“I grew up watching him, and to see him have the career he’s had, and being with him now is something I’ll remember forever,’’ said Cardinals reliever Ryan Helsley. “He just makes everybody better. And what a human being.’’

Said Cardinals first baseman Paul Goldschmidt: “I’ve been so impressed seeing him on a personal level. He teaches guys how to be good teammates, how to treat others, how to lead, how to handle different situations, everything. The example he’s setting, our guys will remember for the rest of their careers.’’

For those on the field Tuesday with Pujols, it'll be an event they never forget.

“What he means to baseball, and to every Dominican in baseball," Soto said, "is unbelievable. He's a legend.

“Having him here, it’s an All-Star Game I’ll never forget.’’

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Albert Pujols' final MLB All-Star Game is special for everyone in LA