Full Circle for Albert Pujols
June 21, 22, and 23, 2019. Albert Pujols came home to St. Louis.
Yes, the powers that be have finally seen the error of their ways and routed Albert back into the city that he held in the palm of his hand for a decade. The city that believed he could do no wrong, who called him The Man (all respects to Stan the Man), and who desired nothing more in the winter of 2011 than to sign a contract, any contract, for any amount of money so he'd stay a Cardinal for life and beyond. But it wasn't to be.
He came home. Albert was a Missouri legend before the rest of baseball knew about him, playing prep ball in the Kansas City area where he graduated high school a semester early and received a baseball scholarship in the area, then playing but a single season there before entering the draft.
From Draft Oversight to Cardinals Legend
In one of the great oversights in draft history, Pujols wasn't selected until the 13th round of the 1999 draft, selection #402 by the Cardinals. He began the 2000 season in Single A but wound up the year by being named the postseason MVP as the AAA Memphis Redbirds won their first PCL title.
Coming into Spring Training in 2001, no less than Mark McGuire told then-manager Tony LaRussa that if he didn't promote Pujols to the Majors then and there, it would be one of the worst moves of his life. He did, it wasn't, and the rest, as they say, is history.
- Albert Pujols Stats | Baseball-Reference.com
2018: 19 HR, .245 BA, 64 RBI,Career: 633 HR (6th), .302 BA, 1982 RBI (7th), 1B/LF/3B, 3xMVP, 2001 NL RoY, 10xAllStar, 2xGG, Cardinals/Angels 2001-2018
How It All Began
Let's step into our WABAC Machine (remember, from the old cartoon Sherman and Mr. Peabody from Rocky and Bullwinkle?) and go back and see just how this Hall of Fame career began.
In 2001, a 21-year-old rookie made the team out of Spring Training and never looked back. Playing Left, Right, First, and Third, he made believers out of the Cardinals and the rest of the league.
How Good Was He?
If you want to talk about young phenoms, youngsters who ate up the league, who put the fear of the Baseball Gods into every opposing pitcher and manager, every pitching coach in both leagues, and every scouting department, then you'd better lead the conversation of any player over the past twenty years with Albert. Harper? Not even close. Machado? Hah! I laugh at that! Trout? Well, maybe if you squint and project a few more years into the future with seemingly impossible numbers.
Good grief, if Harpchado is requesting/demanding $300,000,000 to set down at the table, can you imagine what Albert would bring in today's market if HE hit the market in a similar time frame? Hell, just give him the keys to the building and team!
So, how good was he? As the owl used to say about the Tootsie Pop, "Let's find out, shall we?"
Stats From Pujol's First Six Years in the League
AS, MVP (4), ROY, SS
AS, MVP (2), SS
AS, MVP (3), SS
AS, MVP (1)
AS,MVP (2), GG
His First Six Years
Simply put, he was otherworldly. No other player in MLB history had those stats! None.
- Every single year, he had a batting average well over .300, well over 30 home runs, and well over 100 runs and 100 RBIs.
- Every single year, he was an MVP candidate, never lower than fourth.
- He earned three Silver Sluggers, one Gold Glove, and five All-Star appearances.
- He never had fewer than 143 games played.
- He was all over the field, playing left field, right field, shortstop, third base, and first base.
- His worst OBP was .394; his worst OPS was .955! .955! That is averaging just short of a base per at-bat! Literally every single time he walked to the plate, he made it to first base!
From 2007 to 2011
But he didn't stop there. His excellence continued in 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2011.
- During that run, he had a batting average over .300 every year until 2011, when he dropped all the way to . . . 299.
- Home runs? 32 to 47 every year.
- Runs? 99 in 2007, then 100 to 124.
- RBIs were the same, ranging from 100 to 135 before that disappointing 2011 season when he only drove in 99. Slacker!
- He never played in fewer than 147 games, added second base to his repertoire, earned four more All-Stars, won the MVP two more times (never finishing below 9th), and got three more Silver Sluggers and another Gold Glove.
- His worst strikeout campaign was his rookie year with 93 while having three consecutive years of walking over 100 times.
- In the all-important OPS+ category that all sportswriters seem to make the be-all, end-all in rating players, he never had a single year below 151 and ran as high as 192.
Did You See It?
Did you see the front foot? Look again. As a Cardinal in his younger days he could just barely lift that front foot to the toe then set it right back down. No leg kick, or lifting the foot. As he has aged, his hands are slightly different as is his head. As a Cardinal that head never moves while as an Angel it slides forward as he drives towards the pitcher.
To me, when he played for the Cardinals he had the most beautifully repeatable swing I'd ever seen. I love Junior's effortless left-handed swing but Pujols' was a smooth yet unbelievably powerful swing. He could wait until the last possible split second and draw those hands inside and crush the ball.
I always likened his swing to shooting an arrow from a compound bow. His hands are back, high and steady. Virtually no backward motion, every motion is forward. This creates more time to see the ball and decide if it is something to hit. The weight is back, legs wide and balanced. He is the arrow at full draw, waiting only to sight the ball and release.
No other hitter I've seen has that incredible swing. Some approximate it but no one has it. For years I emulated it in my practice at home, just setting up like that and swinging. Legs wide, weight back, hands far, far back. I was the bow and arrow, waiting only to squeeze the release and let fly my hands. My ball playing days were over but I still practiced for fun.
Then one day at my daughter's fast pitch practice, after the hitting portion was over in the batting cage I asked the manager if I could take a few swings. Smiling he agreed. We loaded up all the practice softballs into the machine and I took my place in the batters box. The team knew I had played fast pitch in my younger days but it had been a while. At some 47 years of age I stepped in. I told the manager to crank it up all the way, fast as it would go. Again, he smiled, probably thinking "what is this old fool think he's gonna do?".
I moved in front of the plate, a foot or two closer to the machine, reducing the distance the ball would travel, making the pitches speed up even more. Batting first right handed then switching between pitches to left handed I proceeded to crush pitch after pitch into line drive after line drive. Left. Right. Left. Right. Back and forth, changing between each pitch. I never swung and missed, never fouled off a pitch.
After roughly forty or fifty pitches the machine was empty and I was smiling and sweaty, hands tingling in a way they hadn't in years. It felt good. The girls were whooping and hollering, cheering me on. The manager was speechless, mouth wide open in shock. Then he decided he wanted to try it. He never even hit one pitch. After a dozen whiffs he called it off. Thank you Albert! Even an old fart like me could learn something new about hitting from you!
Comparing OPS+ Among Pujols, Trout, Harper and Machado Their First Six Full Years
Pujols is as constant as the Northern Star with every season ranging from 151 to 187. No pits, no "off" years in those first few years; just a model of consistency. And Trout? Even better with each year ranging from 168 to 186. Harper is...not really in the same neighborhood. Oh, he had a monster year with that 198 but other than that only one other year tops Pujols' worst year and he isn't close to Trout except for that one outlier. Poor old Machado never even gets in the game.
Why didn't any of the media talking heads call Albert a "Generational Talent" back then? Why wasn't he the darling of the writers of baseball prose as Machado and Harper are? They spoke of him, they praised him for his achievements but never ever did they come close to drooling over him as they do Harpchado.
What About WAR? (First Year Age Stats)
|Pujols (21)||Trout (20)||Harper (19)||Machado (20)|
Okay, an explanation of these stats. First, the ages: Pujols' age is his rookie season, first year in the league. For Machado, the first WAR stat is his second season up when he was 20 years old. On Harper, his stats are from his rookie year in the league where he was 19 years of age: same as Pujols except for the ages. And Trout is the same as Machado, 20 years old in his second season up.
I did this to eliminate both Trout and Machado's first season up as they were not full-time players then, only playing part of the season. Guess I'm just trying to give them a break on that first season where they didn't have a chance to fully show what they can do.
But look at the results! Pujols a monster at 46.2 WAR in six seasons; Trout even more of a beast at 53.7 WAR. Machado and Harper are distant 3rd and 4th place to these two future Hall of Famer players.
St. Louis fans saw this taking place and knew it for what it was: a once in a lifetime viewing of greatness. They loved Albert and they love him still; they simply haven't gotten to show the love up close since he left for California. But now, they will.
St. Louis welcomes back its departed heroes like no other city does. Open arms, standing ovations lasting long moments, cheers if they happen to get a hit against the home team. Former players are beloved and welcome; but no former player will ever receive an ovation as Albert will when he comes to St. Louis that first game home. I have no doubt a number of eyes will be damp that day, maybe even The Machine's.
The Machine. What a nickname. Sometimes called El Hombre but he prefers to not be known as that. As he said when playing with the Cardinals and someone called him that, there is only one person known as The Man (referring to Stan the Man Musial). The Machine is exactly what he was while playing for St. Louis. A machine turning out seasons consisting of a .300 batting average, in excess of 100 runs and RBI's and more than 30 homeruns a year.
In his first dozen years in the big leagues he had exactly two years of less than 100 runs scored (99 and 85), ZERO years of fewer than 30 homeruns, two years of an average below .300 (.299 and .285) and one year of less than 100 RBI's (99). No other Major League player had ever begun their career with two seasons of .300/30/100/100, he was the first.
He then did it for four more years, making the record for beginning a player's career batting .300 with 30 homeruns and 100 or more runs and RBI's approach Joe DiMaggio's 56 game hitting steak: unbreakable in today's game.
It Will Be Better Than David Freese's Welcome Back (The Yadfather Molina Will Make Sure of it!)
© 2019 Mr Archer
Mr Archer (author) from Missouri on June 19, 2019:
Oh man what I would give to be there Friday! I will be at home for the game but work might make me miss that first at bat. I even would be okay with a blast from him so long as it didn't cause the birds to lose. And i agree it might rival that game six where Freeze played such a huge part. Excitement shall reign that evening! Enjoy my friend!!
Zeller515 on June 19, 2019:
I agree I think he likely would've aged better in STL - but I still think as hard as it was - it was the smart baseball move from what that contract would've done to us. I live in Nashville, TN and I've had my tix for Friday night since the day they went on sale. I've had this game figuratively circled on my calendar for years....
I honestly went into the season though hoping Albert would get a SMALL injury that would sideline him just the 10 - 15 days or so - but early enough to where there was no question he'd be back in time for this series - with his age getting up there and the frame that he carries - obviously nagging injuries are just gonna happen - and I've been worried ever since that he might possibly be hurt to where he wouldn't be able to play - not that he likely wouldn't still show up and tip his cap and all that - but to see him come to the plate back at Busch.... This might literally rival having the good-fortune of being there for Game 5 in 06' and then Game 6' of the 2013 NLCS (rookie Wacha vs. untouchable Kershaw - I swore I was driving 300 miles to watch us scratch out a couple singles..... lol
Mr Archer (author) from Missouri on February 18, 2019:
Angel, I would have liked him staying as well and I think he would have aged better here than he has in California. But who knows? He is the best of our lifetime I believe.
Abid, thank you as well.
Angel Guzman from Joliet, Illinois on February 16, 2019:
I'm glad he left the National League Central, lol. I admit would have been sweet if he stayed in Saint Louis. What an amazing player.
Mr Archer (author) from Missouri on January 29, 2019:
Hey Bill, how's life out West? I am bored to tears right now, it's off season for me so I am trying to get back to writing daily. Tell Bev hey for me, will you?
Yes, Albert is one of those few players who exemplify greatness on and off the field. A true class act.
I am intrigued by the Mariners team this year. They have made a few, uh "interesting" moves. Maybe this year, Bill; maybe this year...
Good luck my friend. Take care.
Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on January 29, 2019:
I missed this news. He's one of the class acts in baseball, by all accounts a good man.