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"In 1971 I went to Orthopedic Hospital in Los Angeles to visit a boy named Ricky Williams. The boy just had an operation to remove the lower part of a leg, and he was in a bad way. It was a hollow feeling seeing him there on the bed. His mother said, 'Thank you for coming.' The doctors said he had an 18% chance of living. He was heavily sedated.
"I took his small hand in mine. His mother said, 'Ricky, Steve Garvey's here.'
"And I started to feel a little squeeze from that 10-year-old's hand. He started opening his eyes. Although he couldn't talk, when he opened his eyes it also opened mine. I could feel the strength in that little boy's hand. I knew then that Steve Garvey had a place."
—Steve Garvey, from a 1975 SI story, Born to Be a Dodger
IN ST. LOUIS, they still call Stan Musial the Man. Musial signed every autograph. He went to opposing clubhouses to visit pitchers he'd hit with line drives. He helped even opposing hitters with their batting troubles. He smoked under stairwells so kids would not see him (and then, realizing that there were kids under stairwells too, he quit smoking). He was and is, in every way, the Man.
In St. Louis they now call Albert Pujols El Hombre. That translates to the Man.
"Of course, Stan and Albert are a lot alike," says Musial's longtime friend and Hall of Fame second baseman Red Schoendienst. "The great ones are all a lot alike. They both love to hit. And they both are good people on and off the field. That matters."
This is where Albert gets emotional. This does matter to him. He believes deeply that God has given him the baseball platform to do good work. He met his wife, Dee Dee, when he was just 18 years old. She thought he was 21—they met in a Kansas City dance club that was for people 21 and older. On their first date he admitted being only 18. She said that she had a baby daughter, Isabella, who had been born with Down syndrome. He was in high school, still a ways from the majors. They fell in love fast.
In those early years, Albert would babysit Isabella while Dee Dee worked one of her three jobs. She got him a job in a pizzeria, and he would dutifully give her every penny he made. When Pujols was drafted so low, he briefly considered giving up baseball and getting a job so he could help support Dee Dee and Isabella. After his one season in the minors, he got a part-time catering job at a Kansas City--area country club. "We didn't have any money," Albert says. "It was hard." They spent $150 on their wedding. Their honeymoon was in Peoria, Albert's first minor league stop.
Of course, this is a common tale—the story of a young couple trying to make it in baseball—but what strikes Dee Dee is how Albert seemed entirely driven to be something more than just a baseball star. He did not drink. He would not even be in the same room as a smoker. He did not get tattoos. He never wore an earring. He wasn't interested in going out with the boys. He played baseball, and he went to church, and that seemed about all that interested him.