ST. LOUIS—LeBron James might be “The King”, but in St. Louis, locals will tell you there’s a more important person in town, “El Hombre”. Albert Pujols has offered the sport of baseball one of its most amazing spectacles of talent ever.
I was watching the Giants vs. Nationals earlier today in the press box to see if Randy Johnson would complete a historic feat, 300 wins. The mammoth lefty did, indeed, do so by pitching six innings of unearned ball.
I don’t mean to diminish what Johnson did, because that feat may not happen again, ever. But after seeing Pujols go deep for his 17th home run of the season, a 431-foot shot in which centerfielder Chris Dickerson took about three steps and then conceded the longball, I can confidently say I am witnessing history as it is occurring.
I may not have been tuned in to see more than 20 of Johnson’s wins, but I watch the large majority of Cardinals games, and I have seen enough to feel comfortable saying that No. 5 is well on his way to becoming one of the best players to lace them up. If he were in a bigger market such as New York, fans all over the world would be going berserk for him.
It’s clear who the best player in baseball is. A couple years ago there was a heated debate between he and A-Rod, quite similar to Kobe vs. LeBron, but no longer. Pujols committed himself in the offseason and decided to put all discussion to rest.
There have been some absolute gems in Cardinals’ history, but in just his ninth season, Pujols has surpassed all but one of those, Stan “The Man” Musial. Of course, he must get through ten seasons and retire, but Pujols is a shoo-in for the Hall of Fame.
Although he ranks 17th in games played for the Cardinals, he is in the top 10 in seven different offensive categories, not to mention the fact that he is second to Musial in home runs.
What makes Albert so great? Ask Cardinals’ manager Tony La Russa, and he could go for hours on end. He gets as giddy as a 10-year-old girl meeting the Jonas Brothers when he someone asks him to describe his MVP slugger.
In an interview with Sports Illustrated, La Russa said, "His physical skills are exceptional. His technical skills are outstanding. He is as intelligent as you can be about eating, about working out, about understanding his swing. He remembers at-bats going back years. He has terrific courage at the plate, and this relentless desire to be part of a winning team."
The Albert Pujols lovefest didn’t stop there, though. Hitting coach Hal McRae wanted in on the act, too. "He's a greedy hitter. He wants to get all the hits, all the RBIs, all the important at-bats. He never gives in, never gives away an at-bat, never wants to leave a game.”
Earlier this season, La Russa went so far as to say that Pujols was “perfect”. I’m no rocket scientist, but I’m pretty sure you can’t get any better than that.
As I pen this article, Pujols is terrorizing starter Aaron Harang and the Reds. First the two-run shot, now an RBI double scorched off the left field wall.
In speaking with some of the finest St. Louis reporters in the press box who have the pleasure of watching Pujols on a daily basis, they all say the same thing, “I’ve never seen anything like [Pujols].”
After Pujols’ rope off the fence in the fifth inning, I turned to Matthew Leach, a reporter for stlcardinals.com, and said, “There’s not much you say besides, ‘He’s good’. You must have heard all of the comments before”. His response: “The challenge is stretching that into an 800-word game story 30 or 40 times a year.”
So I say to you sports fans, no matter who you support, if you get a chance to see Pujols play, you too will be able to watch history. After all, there’s a reason they call him “El Hombre”.