This is the kind of event that should have stopped the presses. Facebook and Twitter should be blowing up with this. I found out from an unusual source, a man who doesn’t care a fig for baseball. I was astonished not to have seen the news about Albert Pujols tying Willie Mays with 660 home runs. When Mays called it a career, he was third in home runs behind Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron (who would pass Ruth by early in ’74.)
I guess Facebook and Twitter people had other things to write about. There’s always the pandemic and the upcoming presidential election. I guess there was reason enough to ignore the fact that Pujols came up with his team down a run in the 8th with a man on and launched one that went the distance, and led his team to victory. He now has 660 circuit clouts, or 4-baggers on his Hall of Fame resume.
I feel it’s the game itself that doomed his great achievement last night to footnote status. Coming off the hideous strike of 1994-95, with attendance hemorrhaging at every turnstile, MLB saw fit to overlook rampant steroid use. It seemed to work. Somebody named Brady Anderson hit 50 home runs in 1996. Today, that and 3 bucks will get Brady a decent cup of coffee. 50 home runs was the preserve of guys like Ruth, Foxx, Greenberg, and even Cecil Fielder. Anderson’s 50 was almost 25% of his career output over 14 years. There were whispers late in 1998 about the home run race between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa. Later, McGwire was outed by Jose Canseco. It was downhill all the way from there. Reputations fell like sand castles. Names like Bonds, McGwire, Sosa, and even Roger Clemens appear to be joined in infamy with Shoeless Joe Jackson and Pete Rose. The list of top home run hitters should be dotted with asterisks, starting with Bonds at the top with 762. Aaron and Ruth did their mighty deeds before steroids were prevalent in baseball. 4th on the list now is Alex Rodriguez, a nefarious character with 696 home runs. Then come Mays and Pujols, tied unless Pujols launches another one before season’s end. The next two, Ken Griffey JR. and Jim Thome played in the steroid era and had hefty numbers most likely without help from chemistry. 9th is Sammy Sosa with 609, a known offender. Only after Manny Ramirez, 15th on the list, can you find the real great home run hitters who did it when steroids weren’t part of baseball.
Here’s the snapper. Among the many names touched by steroids-ManRam, Andy Pettitte, Chris Davis-barely a whisper did we hear of Albert Pujols messing with steroids. There was a lot of bad talk when he left St. Louis for Los Angeles, and the word “Bust” has been thrown around since he joined the Angels, but the words “steroids” and Albert Pujols haven’t been said in the same sentence except by ex-Cardinal Jack Clark who was fired by his radio station after letting drop an accusation. Pujols sued, Clark apologized, the suit was dropped. So ends that part of the discussion. It would appear that steroids can’t be why #660 isn’t what it should be.
Pujols was astonishing in St. Louis. He broke in there in April, 2001, in a different world from the one we’ve all occupied since 9/11. He was Rookie of the Year in that great season with the big gap during the middle of September. Pujols stuck with the Cardinals through 2011 and saw them win two World Series-in 2006 and 2011. 9 of his 10 All-Star nods have been as a Cardinal. only in 2015 was he named an All-Star as an Angel. All 3 of his MVP awards came with the Cardinals, the last in 2009. Not bad for a kid drafted in the 13th round following one year of college.
The Angels came calling after the 2011 season. Their owner was and remains Arte Moreno, a charismatic figure. They won the bidding war over St. Louis and Miami. Not that it was much of a sell, trading St. Louis for Anaheim. With Miami’s propensity for fire sales, they wouldn’t give Pujols a “no trade” clause, which for him was a deal breaker, like I won’t allow a smoker in my apartment for any reason. Even with the awkwardness of the team’s name, “Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim,” Orange County would seem to be paradise if you can handle the California life style. He signed a 10-year deal to play there, a deal that has one year left to run. It should be noted, his career batting average was .310 after 2014 ended. It is now .299. It takes a lot to lose 11 points off a lifetime batting average. Mickey Mantle wrote the book on how not to end a career hitting .300. He wasn’t even under a long term contract. He played more than he should because he couldn’t quit and his team wanted him to play.
Pujols hit his 556th home run late in 2015. So, he’s managed 104 in the 5 years since 2015, his only All-Star year as an Angel. 2015 was the 7th time he hit 40 home runs in a season, and the last time he did. All that said, he has 2097 RBIs, second only to Henry Aaron. This truncated season surely ended any chance he might have had of hitting 700 home runs. Even so, his achievement last night, tying him with Willie Mays should be getting more attention than it is. Baseball has fallen flat in any attempt to market Pujols, his teammate Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, or any of its bankable stars. This has been baseball’s problem for generations, but it gets worse every time the NBA or NFL lap the marketing field.1