It wasn't as if Albert Pujols needed yet another category to prove his greatness, was it?
Did we need him to post yet another .300-30-100-100 year? Much more on that in a minute.
Ironically, The Machine is in the midst of what may end up being his worst year statistically, yet he is coming on strong. His recent, Pujolsian-like production may or may not be enough to propel his St. Louis Cardinals to their seventh postseason appearance in 11 years. Much of that will depend on whether the Cards stay hot and the Wild Card-leading Atlanta Braves stay cold.
In many ways, the 2011 season has been Albert's greatest test as a player and pressure performer. Unable to come to terms with Cardinals management on a long-term contract, the consensus best player on the planet has struggled for much of the year. He has battled career uncertainty and a fractured arm (that sidelined him for 15 days, but may have put the average healer on the pine for four or more weeks).
For much of the year, he struggled (perhaps a relative term) at the dish, and the two-time Gold Glover was even making more errors than usual. Was the machine...gasp, only human?
Going into tonight's action, Pujols has boosted his batting average all the way to .304 (terrific, if still low for the active career batting leader, at .329), has slugged an NL-best 36 homers, driven in 97 and scored 99.
Could it be that Albert—for the 11th time in his 11-year career—is headed for another .300/30/100 season?
And that's not all...
Not only has Albert hit .300 or better, slugged 30 or more homers and driven in at least 100 runs every year, but he hasn't exactly been a slacker when it comes to scoring runs. Coming into 2011, Pujols averaged 118-plus runs scored per year and has led the league in this department five times.
It pains me to report that Albert does have a black mark on the back of his baseball card. Yes, in 2007, he only crossed the plate 99 times.
If it were not for this one little shortage, Pujols would have had 10 consecutive years of a .300 average, 30 homers, 100 RBI and 100 runs. As is, he's only done it nine times, and he'll probably do it again in 2011.
Which has me thinking: How many .300/30/100/100 seasons have some of the greatest players, past and present, posted?
Does this new category I propose mean that all players should be judged exclusively by this standard? Of course not. An all-timer like Ty Cobb or Honus Wagner simply did not play in an era conducive to hitting homers. Players such as Pete Rose, Tony Gwynn, Rod Carew and Derek Jeter never hit 30 homers. The late, great Harmon Killebrew never hit .300.
Does that make them lesser players? You make the call.
Yes, ballparks, eras and teammates all play a role, but shake me when we romanticize about an 8.3 WAR like we do about a 40 homer, 125 RBI season. Not on my watch, or sleep.
What follows is a show of some of the greatest hitters ever and how many times they accomplished the .300-30-100-100 feat in their career.
Some of the data may surprise you.
Quite a few Hall of Famers have never posted a .300-30-100-00 season.
From the Deadball Era, Ty Cobb (never hit more than 12 homers), Honus Wagner (career high of 10 homers) and Tris Speaker (maxed out at 17 homers) never accomplished it.
You may not realize that Hall of Famers Roberto Clemente, Al Kaline and Robin Yount never exceeded 29 homers.
Mike Schmidt? Homers were never a problem for the great third baseman, but he did not have a .300 season except for his MVP-rewarded 1980 year. Schmidty hit .316. bashed 31 homers and drove in 91 runs whole scoring 78. Certainly, he would have made it except for the strike that year; he was limited to only 102 games.
Mr. October, Reggie Jackson, only hit .300 in one season, but he also only scored 94 runs that year. Other guys have missed the list by hitting only .299. It is not an easy feat to achieve.
Here are some of the great players who, for one reason or another, never did it.
Catchers: Yogi Berra and Johnny Bench
First Basemen: Harmon Killebrew, Fred McGriff and Willie Stargell
Infielders: Pete Rose, Paul Molitor, Joe Morgan, Derek Jeter, Rod Carew, Wade Boggs, Ron Santo and Cal Ripken (wow)
Outfielders: Andre Dawson (shocked me), Kirby Puckett, Tony Gwynn, Dave Winfield and Carlos Beltran
Joey Votto amassed a .300-30-100-100 season in 2010 en route to winning his MVP. He is on the verge of doing so again this year, and at age 28, may not be finished.
He joins (for now) the following greats who only did it one time apiece.
Richie (Dick) Allen
Jose Canseco (Was I too liberal in describing him as great?)
Miguel Cabrera is an amazing offensive player, but has only accomplished it twice, and is four homers shy of 30 this year.
Current players Mark Teixeira and David Ortiz have also turned the trick twice, but won't make it this year despite posting good numbers. Tex is way short on average (and surprisingly, short on runs), and Ortiz has only crossed the plate 83 times.
Still, Miggy, Tex and Papi join some terrific players who are two-timers here:
Mickey Mantle (another surprisingly low total)
The premise of this piece is that Albert Pujols is about to accomplish his 10th .300-30-100-100 season in his first 11 years. How do we put that in historical perspective?
Here is one way. That great, five-tool player known as Junior (Ken Griffey, Jr. of course) only did it three times.
Joining Junior are:
Jim Rice (did it thrice)
The second most famous No. 4 to ever play home games in New York happened to accomplish this feat four times.
His name was Edward Donald "Duke" Snider, and he was also known as either the Silver Fox or The Duke of Flatbush,
By any name, the man could flat-out play, as his career .295/.380/.540 slash, 407 homers and 1333 RBI would aver.
Just imagine: The Duke was the third best center fielder in his own city during that era.
If only there were a song about them...
Manny Ramirez also did it four times, but not as a center fielder in Brooklyn. Well, his mind may have been there at times.
Chipper Jones is in the final stages of a memorable, destined-for-Cooperstown career. He has accomplished this feat five times, as has Rockies' standout Todd Helton.
It will be interesting to see if Helton gets in the Hall. Some of his numbers scream "yes;" others, not so much.
Another five-time .300-30-100-100 first baseman awaiting his call from the Hall is former Astros great Jeff Bagwell. Perhaps his second turn on the ballot will be his charm.
If he makes it, he will join multiple MVP-winners and fellow five-time club members Hank Greenberg, Stan Musial and Frank Robinson in Cooperstown.
That is pretty impressive company.
If Vladimir Guerrero needs any help with the BBWAA, his mouthpieces should present this article.
By my informal calculation, Vlad the Impaler is one of only 13 players to have done the.300-30-100-100 thing six or more times.
One would expect his company at this plateau to be grand, and it is.
Mel Ott is sometimes forgotten about today, but the diminutive New York Giants great was one of the first players to retire with 500 or more homers, and he led the league in that department six times. He is a career .304 / .414 / .533 batter.
Needless to say, Joltin' Joe DiMaggio, the heroic Yankees Clipper, is one of the most celebrated ballplayers of all-time. He is much more than a 56-game hitting streak and husband of Marilyn Monroe, but those are two amazing accomplishments. The latter achievement will never be matched by another player, and the first one looks pretty safe as well.
Last but never least is Henry Aaron, one of the steadiest, greatest and classiest players to ever step on the diamond. Most fans can rattle off that he hit 755 homers. Aaron was also a five-tool player who made his All-Star team every year from 1955-1975.
It wasn't that long ago that Frank Thomas was expected to churn out those .300-30-100-100 seasons while also drawing 100 walks. He did so seven times, including the 100 walks.
As impressive as that is, he is no match as an all-around player for the man considered by many to be the greatest talent the game has ever seen: Willie Mays.
Personally, I love Willie Mays, but would take Babe Ruth. Nah, give me both of them.
To many, A-Rod is not the easiest of ballplayers or people to warm up to.
Without analyzing this too much, this is a shame in many respects—even if he has brought much of this perception and reality upon himself.
A-Rod does have untold millions of dollars and staggering numbers to keep him content.
The shame is that even if he did not cheat, and whether or not he comes off as a self-centered egomaniac, he is among the greatest talents to ever play the game.
He is still only 36, but is three years removed from his last .300-30-100-100 season.
If he finishes with eight such campaigns, that will leave him behind only six other players.
Ladies and gentleman, pictured is the great Jimmy Foxx.
Although the accompanying picture was taken 70 or so years ago, the man still looks like he can torture any pitcher, past or present.
Double-X certainly did that, racking up three MVP awards and compiling the sixth-best career OPS, a staggering 1.038.
The great Albert Pujols, my inspiration for this piece, is just a hair ahead at 1.039. He is the only active player above .971 (Todd Helton).
Another favorite Pujols tidbit is that in his 10 years in MLB, he has won three MVP awards, finished second three times, third twice and fourth once. Oh yeah, that terrible 2007 season in which he messed up his .300-30-100-100 by only scoring 99 runs? He finished all the way back in ninth.
The other nine-timers are Barry Bonds and Ted Williams.
Bonds accomplished this six times before his 73-homer, juice-induced 2001 season. He has the fourth-highest OPS in history.
Teddy Ballgame, second in career OPS, hit these magic numbers for the first eight years of his career. How about his ninth year?
Williams "slumped" to .317/28/97/82...in only 89 games!
When Albert Pujols accomplishes his next .300-30-100-100, he will trail only one other player in this department and be tied with that player's almost equally famous teammate.
It's hard to even type that grand name without reverence.
For opposing pitchers, it must have been almost impossible to know when Babe Ruth ended and Lou Gehrig began. They may be the most famous one-two punch in American sports history. I'll take them; who do you want?
While somewhat overshadowed by the Babe, Gehrig terrorized pitchers in his own right, leading the AL multiple times in homers, runs, walks and RBI. He also won a batting crown and two MVP awards. His career OPS is fourth best in MLB history.
This classy, "luckiest man on the face of the earth" had to retire just 33 plate appearances into his age-36 season.
Albert Pujols is within striking distance of (in my opinion) the greatest hitter, and player, the game has ever known—Mr. Babe Ruth.
So Albert has to keep his average at .300 or higher, knock in three more and score at least one more in his remaining eight games. That will tie him with Lou; then, one more such season (hopefully in a Cardinals uniform) will tie him with Babe.
King Albert is hanging with baseball royalty. Pretty cool.
Speaking of pretty cool, how's this Babe factoid?
In 1923, during a .393/.451/.764 campaign (with a league-leading 41 homers, 131 RBI and 151 runs), Babe Ruth stole 17 bases. In 38 attempts.
You may ask why the heck was he running that often, and I don't have a good answer for you.
But the man did steal 123 bases in his illustrious career.
By the way, Albert Pujols has 83, with a career high (accomplished twice) of 16—in much fewer attempts.
In truth, I'm not comparing Pujols (not yet,and maybe not ever) to the greatest player the game has ever seen.
By the same token, all baseball fans should take notice of his amazing .300-30-100-100 accomplishments and enjoy what this modern great is doing—season after amazing season.