In sports, there are certain players who are so quietly dominant for so long that fans begin to take their greatness for granted. The Tim Duncans (NBA) and the Teemu Selannes (NHL) of the world possess the kind of talent that fans cannot fully understand until these players have retired. Add Albert Pujols to this list.
The longtime Cardinals and Angels slugger added another milestone to his already prosperous career, cracking his 600th career homerun in grand style. In doing so, he joins a list with only eight other players in baseball history, most of whom are labeled “all-time greats.” Of the eight others to have achieved the coveted mark, four were shoe-in hall of famers (Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, Ken Griffey, Jr.), three were marred by the use of steroids (Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez, Sammy Sosa), and one promises to be a guaranteed Cooperstown-inductee when his time arrives (Jim Thome).
By no means am I arguing that Albert Pujols is, or has been, overlooked or underrated at any point in his career; quite the opposite has been true. While fans have fully appreciated his overwhelming talent, however, they may not fully understand how dominant and how great the slugger has actually been. While he has long been one of the game’s best, he now stands on a short list with the greatest power hitters the baseball has seen over parts of three centuries.
Many are quick to point out that in more recent seasons with the Angels, Pujols lacks the consistent offensive numbers that he posted in St. Louis, when he was averaging 40 homers a year. Despite his batting average dropping off during these late stages of his career, however, he still remains one of the game’s best run producers. Mike Trout, arguably the best player in baseball today, has hit 70 homeruns over the past two seasons (2016, 2015). Pujols has hit 71. He has also driven in 214 runs over that same span. Is his consistency down? Absolutely. Has he lost his effectiveness as a middle-of-the-lineup hitter, however? Far from it, which is why baseball fans need to admire his ability and appreciate his largely unmatched power while it is still here.
Make no mistake as to how significant his milestone homerun was just a few nights ago, and do not underestimate what that means for his career as a whole. During his time in the MLB, Pujols has put together a career beyond worthy of Cooperstown-enshrinement; a career that baseball fans the world over have been fortunate to witness.