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This article was published 8/3/2014 (784 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
TEMPE, Ariz. -- The question was asked of Los Angeles Angels first baseman Albert Pujols early in spring training, but it still gnaws at him on this quiet morning.
Are you motivated to put up the same numbers as Mike Trout?
Pujols stares ahead in disbelief.
"Can you imagine someone saying that to me?" Pujols tells USA TODAY Sports in recalling the question from a reporter. "I felt like saying, 'Come on, are you serious? Are you really asking me that? Check out my numbers. I know what Mike Trout has done in his first two years is pretty special, but will you look at my numbers. I've been doing this for almost 14 years.'
"The only guy in baseball who can match the numbers I've put up is Barry Bonds, and someone is actually asking if I can put up numbers like Mike Trout?
"Are you freaking kidding me?"
Pujols means nothing against Trout, his 22-year-old teammate who finished runner-up in the American League MVP race in his first two seasons, joining Willie Mays as the only players to hit at least .320 with 25 homers and 30 stolen bases in two consecutive seasons. Pujols loves Trout and his talent and work ethic. He sees a Hall of Fame career in the making.
"He's a great kid who always wants to learn and is so humble," Pujols says. "But if it takes someone comparing me to Mike Trout to motivate me, it's time for me to get out of the game."
The truth is Pujols, whose 492 homers and 1,498 RBI are the most by an any active player this side of suspended Alex Rodriguez, doesn't want to be compared to anyone.
He is Albert freakin' Pujols.
He was the best player in the National League while playing for the St. Louis Cardinals from 2001-11. He averaged 40 homers and 121 RBI with a 1.037 OPS. He won three MVPs, finished second four times and was in the top five in six other seasons. He is the only player in history to hit at least .300 with 30 doubles, 30 homers and 100 RBI in 10 consecutive seasons.
And he is hugely responsible for two of those World Series championship banners hanging at Busch Stadium.
Yet after hitting .283 with 30 homers and 105 RBI in his first season with the Angels and playing only 99 games last season, missing the final two months with plantar fasciitis, all Pujols hears is that he's done. He even had friends angrily telephone him during the winter when someone wrote he is now the 80th-best player in baseball.
"The last couple of years have been rough on me, but I don't know how people can tear me down so fast," Pujols says. "They talk about trying to live up to my (10-year, $240-million) contract, but I don't worry about that.
"Let them say what they want now. But later it will be my turn to say what I want. Believe me, that time will come."
Pujols doesn't publicly reveal his goals for this season, but those closest to Pujols know he aims to win another MVP.
And shut everyone's mouth.
There's no greater motivation than proving people wrong, and since Pujols was selected in the 12th round of the 2000 draft, he has loved making those who doubt him look stupid.
"You don't upset a guy like Albert," says Milwaukee Brewers starter Kyle Lohse, Pujols' teammate for four years in St. Louis. "I feel sorry for the other pitchers in that division this year."
Brewers right-fielder Ryan Braun, who won the MVP in 2011 and finished runner-up in 2012, says: "Albert Pujols is the greatest hitter I've ever played against or seen in person in my life.
"Even as great as Miguel Cabrera has been these last two years, it's pretty much what Albert averaged for 10 years. He's not the right guy you want to be doubting."
Pujols left his St. Louis home for California a month early for workouts and showed up to spring training before the pitchers and catchers. That drive to succeed reminds Angels hitting coach Don Baylor of the magical season Hall of Famer Frank Robinson had in 1966.
"Frank got traded to (the Balitmore Orioles) and everybody was saying how he was an old 30," Baylor says. "Frank didn't say anything, but went out and won the Triple Crown (.316, 49 homers, 122 RBI). You didn't hear anybody talk about Frank's age after that.
"Albert has that same determination."
Angels third baseman David Freese, who won a World Series with Pujols in 2011, smirks when asked about Pujols' coming season.
"That focus and determination and pride is what makes Albert so great," Freese says. "You can see it in his eyes now. I've got no doubt in my mind he could win the MVP this year. None."
Pujols is confident he will return to greatness and leave Anaheim years from now wearing a couple more World Series rings. He's confident anybody who thinks otherwise will regret it.
"I'm not going to get up in all that right now, but I remember when they criticized (slugger Vladimir Guerrero) for not speaking English too well," Pujols says. "He says, 'I speak English with my bat.'
"Well, I'm going to speak to all of the negative people with my bat, too. It's going to be a big year. Just watch and see."
-- USA Today