His milestones, as much as the glaring numbers, tells a beautiful story about a future Hall of Famer. On Friday night, in Seattle, Albert Pujols reached 3,000 hits, with a broken-bat single in the fifth inning of the Angels’ 5-0 win over the Mariners.
He belongs to a very nice-size club, with 31 members who achieved this historic feat before him. For one of the most decorated players in MLB history, it’s quite an accomplishment and certainly the purity of his swing and the sort of attitude which he plays the game with earned him a hall pass to Cooperstown.
It was a watershed moment near the end of a brilliant career, further reinforcing his foundering legacy from the early years of his luminous career that was largely forgotten. In Pujols’ 18th season he has been in steady decline, but at his peak with the Cardinals, he was a star slugger whose power dominated a decade.
Yes, he exited the prime of his career, but he solidified himself as one of the best hitters in the game. Sure, his production dropped off tremendously, but this one hit validated his place in MLB history.
Seven years ago, the Angels made a $254 million investment in a well-respected slugger and ushered in the Pujols era. The best player in Cardinals history bolted town, and his power abandoned him, and his batting average plummeted. All of a sudden he went from a central figure to unknown.
Not many held onto a pleasant memory of the distant past, not many cared much about Pujols as he faded into the darkness and became one of the game’s worst players. But this was a significant achievement in the late stages of his career not even the folks in the Midwest could ignore.
If Pujols decides to leave the game soon, he’s retiring as a Cardinal, but with his outspread wings, he’s floating away as an Angel. He found a nice home in Orange County, obtained a greater sense of satisfaction by moving near the beach cities, and collected a sizable paycheck. But in reality, he has a beautiful home he can return to in St. Louis when he decides to give up his livelihood.
Pujols first came to prominence as a hitting dynamo in St. Louis, then he ripened into a beloved icon in a short time. A much younger Pujols has blasted 40 or more home runs seven times, and hit 30 or more home runs in a season 14 times. It was there, Pujols created a legacy that Anaheim now inherits from a Midwest town.
The guy to emerge with an impressive season as a rookie was Pujols. He was named Rookie of the Year and finished fourth in the MVP voting in 2001, at age 21, the kid who former Cardinals manager Tony La Russa marveled — amazed by the splendor of his raw talent during spring training.
It was a forgone conclusion that Pujols would make the club that year, while it was uncertain whether he’d help manufacture runs and pile up staggering numbers. He not only made the team but he took it to a whole new level, and hit .329 with 37 home runs.
From there, he was a pristine machine, built to hit for power and delivered homers that carried and landed in the bleachers as some lucky fans took home souvenirs. It was then that he played with a great deal of consistency all season at the plate.
His patience, combined with his timing and power made him an exceptional player. So extraordinary, Pujols is the only player in baseball history with 30 home runs during each of his first 10 seasons.
Somebody as skilled as this was a rare breed, and in the postseason he was stellar, uncoiling that swing and unleashing homers. He has hit .323/.431/.599 with 19 home runs in 77 career playoff games. The potent hitter he was, Pujols hit at least .312, drove in over 100 runs every season, led the league in runs scored five times, notched 40 home runs six times and won three MVP awards.
In a baseball-driven town, Pujols produced defining moments to stand out from all of the rest, one of those moments coming on a night Pujols clobbered a mammoth, go-ahead, three-run shot deep onto the train tracks at Minute Maid Park. Brad Lidge, Astros then-closer, blew the save in the ninth and never recovered since then.
Shortly after Pujols departed as a free agent in 2012, a change of scenery and an uphill battle against Father Time led to his downfall. That still doesn’t change the fact that he’s one of the greatest major leaguers we’ve ever seen play our nation’s pastime.
In time, if not already, everyone will appreciate Pujols for his physical skills and brilliance as the most feared hitter. It’s unfair and absurd to deny one of the greatest first basemen all time.
Never forget that he became the 32nd member of the 3,000-hit club. Always remember that he became just the fourth player to join Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and Alex Rodriguez with 600 home runs.
Now, suddenly, the debates about Pujols’ historical status has already reached a crescendo. It wasn’t a surprise when he quietly reached the pinnacle of his career by joining the company of those great ones before him.
Those who knew him as a nine-time All-Star, didn’t know of him anymore. The two-time champion hasn’t won a playoff game since he left his old town.
This milestone refreshed our minds about a veteran slugger who has been left behind a year after his arrival to Southern California. The folks have simply neglected Pujols and paid closer attention to the emergence of the new stars on the horizon.
In the years he has spent here, Pujols has hit his 500th and 600th homers, but the Angels will forever share this with St. Louis, where it all started.