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Pujols (Un)Precedent: Baseball's Dilution Of a Once-Meaningful Word

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Pujols (Un)Precedent: Baseball's Dilution Of a Once-Meaningful Word
(Photo by Michael Heiman/Getty Images)

If you've been paying even the most cursory attention to the goings-on in Major League Baseball this year, then you undoubtedly have heard talk of the offensive onslaught that St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols is unleashing upon National League pitchers—and oh my, what an onslaught it is.

Now in his ninth season in the big leagues, the 29-year-old Dominican-born slugger has kept up his torrid pace with astonishing consistency. His 'worst' season thus far would probably be his sophomore campaign in 2002, during which Pujols recorded career-lows in batting average (.314) and on base+slugging (.955); these are stats that decent players don't attain in their best years (it should be noted that he finished second to a particular Mr. Bonds in NL MVP voting that season).

However, Albert's prior seasons simply pale in the face of what he has accomplished so far this year, in little more than a half season. As of Sunday, he has slammed 32 HRs & 85 RBIs, scored 71 runs, and walked 71 times—all while batting at a .336 clip.  He is leading the league in almost all major offensive categories and has a virtually insurmountable lead in HRs and RBIs, 2 of the 3 prongs of the hitter's Triple Crown (he trails only two players in third, that being batting average).

Pujols is certainly on pace for one of the top offensive seasons ever, and barring a horrid slump or injury, he will probably win his third NL MVP Award, tying him for second most all time. This, coupled with his legitimate chance at winning the Triple Crown, has led to his constant praise and near-worship by broadcasters, anchors, and sports writers all across the country. The 'pet' description that many of these media types have been using, in reference to Pujols' season, is "unprecedented." This would appropriately describe Pujols' meteoric passing of the 300 HR plateau, as that truly would be without precedent. 

However, if you listen to a sports broadcast that mentions Pujols (and most will, given his domination), you will hear them say something along the lines of '...Albert Pujols' unprecedented season...,' or maybe '...Albert Pujols' unprecedented shot at the Triple Crown,' suggesting that there is no prior season that anyone has had that equals or betters Albert's performance this year; this is simply not true.

The purpose of this is not to argue that Albert Pujols' 2009 season is not special, or outstanding, or extraordinary, or any of these types of superlatives—nay, it is that sports journalists are using the word 'unprecedented,' intentionally or not, as a synonym to these adjectives. If unprecedented would be used to describe Pujols' quick crest of the 300 HR plateau, it would be appropriate and I would not take issue with it. However, if one simply checks, there is a lot of precedent for a Triple Crown season, seeing as how the feat has been completed 13 times, most recently in 1967 by Carl Yastrzemski.

Yes, it has been a while, but it is certainly not unprecedented. However, since it has been a fair amount of time, it is reasonably possible that these reporters merely meant to indicate that there has been a dry spell, but utilized the incorrect word. The greatest error in the usage of unprecedented is the short-term memory loss of reporters who, barring actual amnesia, know that there has been a better season(s) by a different player, and quite recently (2001 in particular)— meaning that it is, essentially, the unwillingness to acknowledge the elephant in the room.

Most of you have probably figured out that I am referencing Barry Bonds' season(s). Say or believe what you want about Bonds, but what he did is, quite simply, unprecedented. 73 HRs? Unprecedented. 177 walks (since broken multiple times by Bonds himself)? Unprecedented. .863 slugging percentage? Again, unprecedented. The combination of all these made for a truly unprecedented season—McGwire and Sosa nearly equaled the HR total, but were not even close in the other categories. However, Bonds legacy, regardless of what happened, will be forever tainted by HGH allegations (I urge people to keep in mind that, even if he did use HGH, that was not in violation of the rules at the time). Frantically looking for a new focus, the media found its darling in Pujols, who is kind, affable, and a good Christian man, and thereby is attempting to exorcise Bonds, with his surly demeanor and (apparent) egotistical attitude.

These are not the rants and raves of an angry Bonds apologist; rather, this is merely an attempt to illuminate the lack of attention paid to the career and records that Bonds has, and which Pujols has not yet broken. There is a high chance that Pujols will break Bonds' career HR record, and probably many other records too-- if Albert continues to post these statistics, than maybe one day these sportswriters will be correct in their assertion of 'unprecedented'.

 

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