Chicago Cubs fireballing right-hander Kerry Wood peered in to get the signal from catcher Damian Miller, nodded assent, went into the windup and delivered a 98 mph fastball aimed right at Albert Pujols’ chin.
Wood stared in from the mound, waiting to see Pujols’ reaction. Pujols rose to his feet and with great deliberation, stepped back into the box.
The pitcher delivered, Pujols swung and Wood had given up his second consecutive home run.
"You don't rattle him," Jim Edmonds said. "He rattles you."
It didn’t take Tony La Russa long to know that Pujols was on his way to becoming the Lou Gehrig of his era. The great Cardinals manager thought that Pujols was the best player he had ever managed, including Mark McGwire, Jose Canseco and Rickey Henderson.
La Russa spoke following the 2003 All-Star Game.
"I had a couple guys from the other league walk up to me who had read those comments I had made about Albert as a player," La Russa said after the All-Star Game. "And they said, 'I thought when you said those things, you were exaggerating to make a point.' But then they said, 'We understand.'"
When he was the Cardinals’ batting instructor, Mitchell Page, who was Reggie Jackson’s teammate at Oakland, felt the same way about Pujols as La Russa.
"He's rare," Page said. "You look at that and you think of names like Ted Williams, Rod Carew and George Brett, guys with beautiful, pure swings. Swings like his don't happen very often. It's a gift."
Barry Bonds took umbrage at La Russa’s comments. He said that Pujols lacks the foot speed to be a great all-around player. He added that Pujols “loses points” because he plays first base, third base and the outfield.
Hey Baroid, ever hear of Pete Rose? Whoops. Can’t use a convicted gambler and tax evader, can we? Or can we?
How about Honus Wagner? Did the fact that “Ol Hans” played first, second, third, the outfield and shortstop result in his “losing points"?
But what upset Bonds most was the idea that after just three seasons, Pujols was being compared with the all-time greats.
Today, some in the media refer to Pujols as “Prince Albert.” That couldn’t be farther from the truth.
Albert is quiet, serious almost to a fault, private and motivated. Besides his family, his satisfaction comes from achieving the most from his abilities, not unlike Lou Gehrig.
"When I walk out of this game 15 years or so from now," Pujols said in 2003, "I want to be the best player I can be. I want to be remembered as a dedicated worker who never got lazy. I want to be the same Albert Pujols a year from now. I want to be the same person no matter how much success I might have."
Source: McHale, Matt. Baseball Digest, October 2003, acquired via findarticles.com.