Pujols Through the Ages
By Michael Webb
At the time, I thought it original when the improbably named rock band Cinderella sang in 1988, “Don’t Know What You’ve Got (Till It’s Gone)”. At age 17, I certainly didn’t. We don’t appreciate what’s right in front of our faces, because things will always be the way they are right now. Experience, of course, teaches us that they will not.
My father died this July. It is often said, to the point of nausea, that baseball is a game about fathers and sons—even when you can’t talk about anything else, you can talk about baseball. Like many men, my father and I didn’t talk as much as we should have, and as one might imagine, I am deeply cognizant of those lost conversations now.
Growing up in the Boston suburbs, my brothers and I naturally rooted for all the Boston teams, season by season. I can’t honestly say which was my father’s favorite sport, really—like us, he followed each season as it came through, but was really more interested in us than he was the weaknesses of the Red Sox’s John Valentin or the Celtics’ Dee Brown. We didn’t play catch in the front yard, a la “Field of Dreams,” but we certainly talked sports, and we attended our share of Sox games along the way.
Luckily, my father did get to see a Red Sox title (two, in fact)—an event generations of fathers missed out on—along with Hall of Famers like Yaz and now Jim Rice’s long awaited entry into Cooperstown. So we were able to appreciate things that time could not take away from us, even if future titles and Cy Youngs and MVPs may be missed out on.
I think about all this in relation to Albert Pujols, of all people. You can probably imagine his swing, if you think about it. What strikes me about the 29-year-old Cardinal first baseman is the unearthly consistency of his numbers—the absolute, metronomic perfection of them.
Insert coin, and a .320 average with 30 homers and 100 RBIs tumbles out. And not on average—every single time. His seasonal lows—.314, 32 homers, 103 RBI—would make most modern players weep with envy. Properly nicknamed The Machine, he easily earns the comparisons we so easily make to the greats of the past—Gehrig, Foxx, DiMaggio, Williams-and stands beside these titans already. No gaps for injury or war service for Albert, no struggles to find his way as a young player. Just pure, ironclad hitting, line drive after line drive, year after year.
Pujols is a work in progress, true—while we can see Foxx in full now, watching his skills erode with age—Pujols is still at the peak of his powers, his statistical lines unblemished by even a freckle. We should appreciate Pujols for who he is, the producer of such staggering numbers, year after unblinking year like very few who have ever played the game. We should try to note his greatness, and record it in our minds, because we will not see his like again soon. His skills will fade, and someday all that will be left will be the march of the dark type and the frightened pitchers they left behind.
We should, if we can, call our fathers, too. And if you can’t talk about anything else, talk some baseball.
About the author
Michael Webb began his baseball fandom in 1978, which was a really great year to be a Boston Red Sox fan. Most of it, anyway. He now follows the Sox in South Jersey with his patient wife and son.