MLB

On the Mark: Pujols best of his era

Share This Story

Mark Kriegel

Mark Kriegel is the national columnist for FOXSports.com. He is the author of two New York Times best sellers, Namath: A Biography and Pistol: The Life of Pete Maravich, which Sports Illustrated called "the best sports biography of the year."

MORE>>
 
   
 

ST. LOUIS

While the home run derby abounds in sponsorship, it's sorely lacking in irony. After all, it was baseball's profitable fascination with the home run that got it in such trouble in the first place. Of course, none of that mattered much as Albert Pujols stepped into the batter's box Monday night here at Busch Stadium, not far from a stretch of interstate officially christened the "Mark McGwire Highway." Pujols is now considered the best hitter of his era. But what to make of that era, as Pujols made his major league debut back in 2001, the year Barry Bonds set a new record with 73 homers? Back then, performance-enhancing drugs were forbidden but effectively tolerated — maybe even tacitly encouraged? — under a de facto policy of don't-ask-don't-tell. Eight years later, baseball has a credible testing and detection program. That should be great news for a guy like Pujols, who, now as then, seems a threat to win a Triple Crown every season. While some of baseball's most famous power hitters showed a conspicuous drop-off once real testing began in 2005, Pujols put up his personal best home run season (49) in 2006. This year, he's hit 32 at the break. During the morning interview session, Pujols was asked about the possibility of hitting 60 or more. "We'll talk about it in September," he said. "I don't even want to talk about it until then." Besides, he added, 60 isn't the number to beat anymore. "I think the number is 74," he said. In fact, the true numbers are unknowable. Bonds' 73 is as tainted as his 762. And though Pujols' consistency seems both admirable and awesome, the taint extends to him, too. It's not fair. But that's the way it is. In this century at least, the best-hitter designation has been a harbinger of doom. First it was Bonds. Then Alex Rodriguez, widely considered baseball's best chance to redeem the home run record. Then Manny, being Manny, was exposed as a cheat. Pujols understands the presumption against him. He has challenged the cynics. Test him every day, if need be. But mere denial doesn't pacify a generation of fans accustomed to serial disappointments. Perhaps the prejudice is intensified by the fact that Pujols is so damn big. Listed at six-three, 230 pounds (a little light if you ask me), he looks like another one of those home run hitters who were created in the weight room at the end of the last century. But his musculature obscures another irony. Except for this silly derby, which saw him eliminated in the second round Monday night, Pujols doesn't even try to knock the ball over the fence. "You can't try to hit a home run," he said. "They just come to you." He's never hit below .314, fewer than 32 homers or 103 RBI. But the only statistical target he sets for himself is 100 walks. And he's accomplished that only once, last season. His goal isn't power, but efficiency. "I'm not a power hitter," he said. "I'm a line drive hitter with some power. Once in a while I get lucky." Actually, it's not luck. It's talent and dedication. Pujols is keenly aware of his place in the game — especially during these all-star festivities. This is his town, his stadium. Other players showed up for their interview sessions in T-shirts and polo shirts and jeans. Pujols arrived wearing a blue suit, accessorized with a striped tie and a decorative pocket handkerchief. He also brought his eight-year-old son, A.J. McGwire and Bonds and A-Rod and Ramirez have kids, too. Still, as the session wore on and on, A.J. began to massage his father's massive shoulders. If Pujols were readying for a fight, this boy was a tender trainer. He is also, I imagine, the greatest guarantor of his father's fidelity to the game. The boy's glove rested on the podium during the session. "He wants to pitch," said Pujols. "But I tell him no. I tell him it's more fun to hit one out."

On the Mark

OK, it's been a couple weeks now and I still don't get it: Why did Steve McNair get more grief for sleeping with women than Michael Jackson got for sleeping with boys? Almost feel bad for Jackson, though. I mean, you spend your whole life trying to be Diana Ross and you end up Marilyn Monroe. Anyone notice that the Angels' Brian Fuentes has more saves than K-Rod? Interesting piece in the New York Times about a new statistical system being developed to quantify real fielding efficiency and ability. Unfortunately, it will come too late for the Dodgers, who could've used it to save a few million on Manny's contract. Lenny Dykstra, alleged financial genius, declares bankruptcy. Guess he couldn't find a way to juice his books. If MMA is worthy of real respect, as I have argued from time to time, then how does a guy get to be the heavyweight champ with a record of 4-1?
Tagged: Brian Fuentes, Angels, Dodgers

More Stories From Mark Kriegel



MLB Videos

Bautista talks Derek Jeter's final All-Star Game Posted: Jul 16, 2014
Jose Bautista discusses Derek Jeter's career and his final appearance in the MLB...

Jeter honored to play in last All-Star Game Posted: Jul 16, 2014
Derek Jeter compares his first All-Star Game experience with his last, Mike Trou...

Matheny defends Wainwright: He's out there to compete Posted: Jul 16, 2014
Mike Matheny comments on the media's reaction to Adam Wainwright's joke about le...

SimLeague Baseball - Simulation Baseball Game

More Than Sports on MSN

Fox Sports Store

    itemName itemURL imageSrc price itemDescription
    Nike New York Yankees Practice T-Shirt - Ash http://shop.foxsports.com/FOX_New_York_Yankees/browse/featuredproduct/606363/source/foxsports_prsp_ca http://images.footballfanatics.com/FFImage/thumb.aspx?i=/productImages/_606000/ff_606363_xl.jpg&w=100 27.95 Nike New York Yankees Practice T-Shirt - Ash
    Majestic Detroit Tigers 2012 MLB American League Champions Clubhouse Locker Room T-Shirt - Navy Blue http://shop.foxsports.com/FOX_Detroit_Tigers/browse/featuredproduct/1064043/source/foxsports_prsp_ca http://images.footballfanatics.com/FFImage/thumb.aspx?i=/productImages/_1064000/ff_1064043_xl.jpg&w=100 24.95 Majestic Detroit Tigers 2012 MLB American League Champions Clubhouse Locker Room..
    Majestic San Francisco Giants 2012 MLB World Series Champions Clubhouse Locker Room T-Shirt - Gray http://shop.foxsports.com/FOX_San_Francisco_Giants/browse/featuredproduct/1067359/source/foxsports_prsp_ca http://images.footballfanatics.com/FFImage/thumb.aspx?i=/productImages/_1067000/ff_1067359_xl.jpg&w=100 24.95 Majestic San Francisco Giants 2012 MLB World Series Champions Clubhouse Locker R..
    Majestic San Francisco Giants 2012 MLB World Series Champions Clubhouse Locker Room Pullover Hoodie - Steel http://shop.foxsports.com/FOX_San_Francisco_Giants/browse/featuredproduct/1067382/source/foxsports_prsp_ca http://images.footballfanatics.com/FFImage/thumb.aspx?i=/productImages/_1067000/ff_1067382_xl.jpg&w=100 54.95 Majestic San Francisco Giants 2012 MLB World Series Champions Clubhouse Locker R..
    New Era San Francisco Giants 2012 MLB World Series Champions Clubhouse Locker Room 39THIRTY Flex Hat - Charcoal/Black http://shop.foxsports.com/FOX_San_Francisco_Giants/browse/featuredproduct/1067785/source/foxsports_prsp_ca http://images.footballfanatics.com/FFImage/thumb.aspx?i=/productImages/_1067000/ff_1067785_xl.jpg&w=100 31.95 New Era San Francisco Giants 2012 MLB World Series Champions Clubhouse Locker Ro..
    Majestic San Francisco Giants 2012 MLB World Series Champions Glory T-Shirt - Black http://shop.foxsports.com/FOX_San_Francisco_Giants/browse/featuredproduct/1068294/source/foxsports_prsp_ca http://images.footballfanatics.com/FFImage/thumb.aspx?i=/productImages/_1068000/ff_1068294_xl.jpg&w=100 21.95 Majestic San Francisco Giants 2012 MLB World Series Champions Glory T-Shirt - Bl..
    Majestic San Francisco Giants 2012 MLB World Series Champions Batting Practice Performance Jersey - Black/Orange http://shop.foxsports.com/FOX_San_Francisco_Giants/browse/featuredproduct/1068787/source/foxsports_prsp_ca http://images.footballfanatics.com/FFImage/thumb.aspx?i=/productImages/_1068000/ff_1068787_xl.jpg&w=100 94.95 Majestic San Francisco Giants 2012 MLB World Series Champions Batting Practice P..