Last night’s game between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Washington Nationals had plenty of excitement, as the result eventually came down to the bottom of the 13th. Not only had the Cardinals scored in the top of the 9th to take a lead, but the Nats were able to put together a rally to tie it up in their half of the inning. Yet within the excitement of an extra-inning Major League game, a larger moment occurred. Albert Pujols became one of the fastest and youngest players in MLB history to reach the 400 career home run plateau.
The 400 Club isn’t the most exclusive list to be on nowadays, as Pujols just became the 47th player ever to do it. What’s impressive about Pujols, is the extraordinary fashion in which he got there. Pujols is the first player ever to hit 30 or more home runs in each of his first ten Major League seasons. Sit back and ponder that for a second. With the likes of Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Alex Rodriguez, and recent retiree Ken Griffey Jr. all at the top of the career home run list, none of them accomplished such success at a rate like Albert Pujols.[pullquote]Pujols is the undisputed best player in baseball[/pullquote]
He has been raved about since he first hit the Majors in 2001. From Day One scouts and coaches have drooled over his power potential, solid glove at first base, and immense baseball IQ. Now, at the mere age of 30 and in just the middle of his prime, Pujols is the undisputed best player in baseball. While the Ryan Howards of the MLB world may mash more homers in any given year, no one is as consistent as Pujols. He is guaranteed not only to throw up gaudy power numbers like 30-40 home runs, 115+ RBI, and a .650+ slugging percentage, but Pujols also gets on base as well as anyone. He has never hit below .300 for a season (or even .314, for that matter), and his on-base percentage has just once dipped below the .400 mark (he has a career .426).
Add his supreme abilities at the plate to sometimes flashy defense at first and an uncanny comprehension of the basepaths for a first baseman, and you have one of the greatest players of all-time. Pujols, in fact, ranks 8th on the all-time list for adjusted OPS+ (one of the better stats for comparing across eras) at 172, tied with Mickey Mantle. He sits behind just Ruth, Gehrig, Williams, Bonds, and Hornsby.
With Pujols, imagination is endless for where he could end up on all-time lists. He’s already a write-in on most of them, and he may have 10 years left in baseball. At his current pace of roughly 40 home runs per season, Pujols would reach 500 at the age of 33, 600 at 36, and 700 at 39, approximately. One of course has to take the declining numbers of aging players into account, but with Pujols being the athletic machine he is, and playing at a more health-friendly position, it’s within the realm of possibility for him to challenge the leaders.
If I had to take a guess at where Pujols will finish, I’d say somewhere just short of Babe and Hank, the true Home Run King, simply because Pujols arrived a little “late” at age 21.
But let me tell you, I’m not guaranteeing anything. Until he proves otherwise, no one can or should bet against Prince Albert reaching the top.