Last evening, in the City of Angels, the other-worldly Albert Pujols hit his 699th and 700th career home runs against the Los Angeles Dodgers.
There’s no reason for me to write a post on this, because one of my favorite sportswriters, Joe Posnanski, has written the perfect column celebrating the man and his achievements. It is a free (meaning open to all) post on Joe’s Substack platform and it is titled, appropriately, 700 words on Albert Pujols.
Joe begins with Pujols coming to live in America, knowing only five words of English. When he met his high school baseball coach, that coach only knew five words of Spanish. That’s okay.
“Tell him,” Pujols said to his cousin in Spanish, “that I’m here to play baseball. Let’s go play. I’m not here to talk about anything.”
Here to play baseball. That’s the Albert Pujols story. His senior year at Fort Osage, he was such a fearsome hitter that managers walked him 55 of the 88 times he stepped to the plate. At Maple Woods Community College, he did not strike out a single time all season. In his first big-league spring training — after being drafted in the 13th round by the Cardinals — he was so absurdly good that manager Tony La Russa was already talking about him going to the Hall of Fame.
Joe writes — correctly — that Pujols was “the best player in baseball and the most underrated player in baseball at exactly the same time. In his first 11 seasons in the big leagues, he finished top five in the MVP voting every single year but one.”
And even after leaving St. Louis and going for the big bucks, only to find himself in the baseball wilderness of Anaheim (we could have told you so, Anthony Rendon), he still found the skill to come back, at age 42, with his original team the Cardinals and after a slow start end up with a half-season for the ages.
(O)nly those who saw Albert Pujols play every day fully understood the staggering depths of his brilliance. He decided after his rookie year to stop striking out (he whiffed 93 times that season). So he stopped striking out. He decided in his mid-20s to improve his defense. So he became one of the great defensive first basemen. He decided that even though he wasn’t blessed with much speed, he should become a dangerous baserunner. Over the next few years, he stole bases at roughly an 80% clip.
He was Superman.
Take a look at the full at-bats for numbers 699 and 700, and then go read all of Joe’s post. Like the home run, it is one for the ages.
Congratulations to King Albert the Great!
More to come…
Image of Dodger Stadium by Manfred Guttenberger from Pixabay