By far, the most toxic part of the steroid era was the way it grotesquely distorted Major League Baseball's record book.
Suddenly, in the blink of an eye, some of the game's most revered numbers were twisted and turned as if standing in front of a fun-house mirror operated by the worst kind of skanky carnies and shyster gypsies imaginable.
Now comes Albert Pujols blasting his way into the 500 Home Run Club, and do you believe?
Do you believe in the credibility of 500 again?
Do you believe in the purity of Pujols?
Once upon a time, the 500 Club meant something. And I'd like to think, a decade into the toughest performance-enhancing drug testing program in any sport, that it again means something.
In fact, strike part of that last sentence. I know it means something. Again. As it should.
Say what you will about the Los Angeles Angels' franchise player, but Pujols has been tested, tested and tested again—just like everyone else—since the program began in 2004. So far, so clean. Furthermore, his name did not turn up in BALCO records, and it wasn't lurking in the Biogenesis files.
And when former St. Louis Cardinal Jack Clark, on The King and the Ripper Show—which he co-presents—irresponsibly said last summer that he knew for a fact that Pujols juiced, Pujols not only angrily denied it, but said he would sue. And then he followed through with that threat, filing suit in a St. Louis court last October.
Sadly, in our cynical world today, even all of that is not proof positive. The dirty, chronic liar Ryan Braun, among his many acts of treachery, did some serious damage to the game's clean players as well. Because after listening to Braun's righteous indignation that was pure, unadulterated horseradish, we're now inclined to believe in a guy's outer shell of honesty even less than we were before.
It says something—to me, at least—that Pujols not only followed through with his threat to sue Clark, but also pressed forward until Clark finally waved the white flag and apologized in February.
"I would like to address Albert Pujols' pending defamation lawsuit and reconfirm that I have no knowledge whatsoever that Mr. Pujols has ever used illegal or banned PEDs," Clark said in a statement then. "I publicly retract my statements that Albert Pujols used such substances. During a heated discussion on air, I misspoke, and for that I sincerely apologize."
That we even need to cover this ground before talking about Pujols' swing, his career and his healthy legs in 2014 is too bad, but that's where we are thanks to his recent predecessors.
Pujols is the 11th player to join the 500 Club since 1999. Before then, only 15 belonged. Now, 26.
Of those 11 players to crack 500 since '99, seven were blatant cheats: Rafael Palmeiro, Alex Rodriguez, Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire, Manny Ramirez and, yes, Gary Sheffield. (He admitted using Bonds' BALCO supply once before he knew what it was, so believe what you will there.)
That leaves Ken Griffey Jr., Jim Thome, Frank Thomas (who will be inducted into the Hall of Fame later this summer)...and Pujols.
Nobody had ever hit Nos. 499 and 500 in the same game until Pujols, rejuvenated at 34, belted a Taylor Jordan changeup over the fence in the first inning and deposited another meaty Jordan offering over the fence in the fifth.
The Angels spilled out of their dugout en masse and flocked to greet Pujols at the plate. He is the third-youngest player to hit his 500th, behind only A-Rod* (32 years, eight days) and Jimmie Foxx (32 years, 337 days).
Best part for the Angels is, this is the healthiest Pujols has been since signing the monster 10-year, $240 million deal with them before the 2012 season. Shut down for the year after just 99 games last season because of a torn right plantar fascia, his foot has healed and he had his left knee cleaned out in October.
Mostly in Anaheim, Pujols has looked like a shell of his former St. Louis MVP self. Last year, with the two bad wheels, it was painful watching him run and terribly unsettling watching him attempt to swing. He couldn't use his lower half because he had no base. His swing was all from the waist up.
It is totally different this year. It would be too much, at this stage, to ever expect to see the MVP Pujols of 2008-09 re-emerge. But what he's showing right now is what he's shown us since his debut for Tony La Russa in 2001: He is one of the best and smartest hitters in the game, and he changes games.
He entered Tuesday's game hitting .263/.330/.550 with six homers and 14 RBI in 19 games. He stole a base Monday to help set up an Angels win.
And then he sent both the Angels and his legacy into orbit on Tuesday.
No other sport does numbers like baseball. From 714 to 755 to .400, from 31 and 56 to 500, and beyond.
Do you believe?
Pujols has given us no reason not to, and because of that, it was a night of celebration, unlike so many 500s over the past decade.
Scott Miller covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report. He has over two decades of experience covering MLB, including 14 years as a national baseball columnist at CBSSports.com.
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