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Like it or not, Pujols is "The Man" for the Angels

By Mark Lamport-Stokes

(Reuters) - Albert Pujols does not like it one bit. Since his much trumpeted move to the Los Angeles Angels at the end of last year, he has appeared on billboards all over Southern California linked to the nickname "El Hombre".

The pictures show him from the back, wearing his red Angels jersey emblazoned with No. 5, but it is the nickname that makes the nine-time Major League Baseball All-Star and twice World Series winner feel distinctly uncomfortable.

Dominican-born slugger Pujols, who helped the Cardinals beat the Texas Rangers to clinch last year's World Series, had the same complaint in St. Louis where he was given the same label.

"I don't want to be called that," Pujols told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "There is one man that gets that respect, and that's Stan Musial. He's ‘The Man' in St. Louis.

"I know 'El Hombre' is ‘The Man' in Spanish but he is ‘The Man'. You can call me whatever else you want but just don't call me El Hombre."

Musial, a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame since 1969, is regarded as one of the greatest ever hitters in baseball and was a record 24-time All-Star who played his entire 22-season career with the Cardinals, Pujols' team since 2001.

Like it or not, Pujols may have a problem shedding that nickname with the Angels in Anaheim where his arrival, along with that of All-Star pitcher C.J. Wilson, has been rapturously welcomed by his new team mates and fans alike.

Pujols, a three-times National League most valuable player, signed a 10-year deal worth $240 million in December and his sublime hitting prowess is expected to help the Angels become likely postseason contenders.

The 32-year-old Dominican is widely viewed as the greatest player of his generation and his extraordinary hitting numbers already outstrip most of those from every other baseball generation.

WORK ETHIC

"I know I've had good success, but I'm always thinking about having the best season I've ever had," Pujols told reporters at spring training in Arizona where he has impressed his team mates with his work ethic.

"Those are things that I focus on. And it's not just for me, it's for the whole team. In the end, that's what you play for ... to be a champion, because all that matters is how many (World Series) rings you have when you retire.

"To keep yourself at this level, you have to stay strong every day and never take this game for granted. And that's something that has always kept me very humble."

A deeply religious man who is dedicated to charity work, Pujols has a remarkable career .328 average with 445 home runs in 11 seasons.

Last year, he hit 'only' .299 with 37 homers but exploded for three home runs and six runs batted in with a 5-for-6 night to give St. Louis a 2-1 lead over the Rangers in the best-of-seven games World Series with a 16-7 victory.

Though Pujols produced, by his own lofty standards, the worst season of his career in 2011, Cardinals manager Tony La Russa continues to be lavish with his praise for the slugger.

"He's the best player I've been around in 33 years, and now the Angels have him," La Russa said. "This guy is perfect. If you find a flaw, tell me, and I'll challenge it.

"Pressure is his friend; he embraces it. He'll want to prove to the Angels organization, his team mates and his fans that he's a legitimate player. He knows how to come through in the clutch."

Last season, they finished 10 games behind the Rangers in second place in the AL West. This season, they will benefit from a peerless slugger who in his actions, if not in nickname, is unquestionably 'The Man'.

(Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes in Los Angeles; Editing by Frank Pingue)