“Al-bert! Al-bert! Al-bert! Pu-jols! Pu-jols! Pu-jols!” The crowd at Dodger Stadium roared as St. Louis Cardinals slugger Albert Pujols cemented his place in history. On Sept. 23, 2022, with his second home run of the evening, Pujols reached a milestone just three other baseball players have ever attained, joining baseball legends Barry Bonds, Henry Aaron, and Babe Ruth in the Exclusive 700 Home Run Club.
Letting his emotions overtake him, Pujols took a moment to reflect on his place in history after the game.
“Why [so much emotion]? Because of this, my beautiful family,” Pujols said. “After the Lord, this is who I play for. They’ve been walking through this journey and through the ups and downs, through the cries, the hurt and the injuries and knowing they have my back. Them being a part of this history means everything to me.”
In the 22nd and final year of his career, 42-year-old Albert Pujols has seen a resurgence in his play. In his second stint with the St. Louis Cardinals — the team he played with for the first eleven years of his career — Pujols has lit up the stat sheet. With a slash line of 0.268/0.541/0.888 (Batting Average, Slugging Percentage, and On Base + Slugging Percentage, statistics typically used to measure a player’s batting performance), Pujols has had his best statistical year in nearly a decade.
On July 9, Pujols was just hitting 0.198 (well below his career average of 0.284 and, by far, the worst mark of his career) with four homers. Many wondered if this would be it for Pujols, a sputtering end to a brilliant career. Despite a small bounce back near the end of July, Pujols headed into August, at around 100 games into the 162-game season, with just seven home runs. Needing fourteen home runs in the remaining 60 games, he was way behind the pace to reach 700 homers. Sports fans alike wrote off his chance to make history. Pujols responded with eight home runs in August and seven in September, propelling the Cardinals to a playoff spot atop the National League Central Division.
After his 700th home run, Pujols reflected on his continued focus on winning, not numbers and statistics.
“Look, don’t get me wrong, I know what my place is in this game. But since Day 1, when I made my debut, it was never about numbers, it was never about chasing numbers. It was always about winning championships and trying to get better in this game. And I had so many people that taught me the right way early in my career, and that’s how I’ve carried myself for 22 years that I’ve been in the big leagues. That’s why I really don’t focus on the numbers. I will one day, but not right now.”
Number-driven or not, Pujols has had an illustrious career. Selected by the St. Louis Cardinals in the thirteenth round (pick 402) of the 1999 Amateur Draft, Pujols began his Major League career in 2001 at just twenty-one years old, becoming the first player born in the 1980s to play a Major League game. Despite his youth, Pujols played incredibly well, securing All-Star honors as a rookie and smashing 37 home runs en route to the 2001 National League Rookie of the Year award. His excellence did not stop there. He hit a remarkable 0.300 batting average, 30 home runs, and 100 RBIs (Runs Batted In) in each of his first ten seasons, a feat that only the legendary Babe Ruth has done more times. Pujols’ accolades do not stop there: he is an 11-time All-Star, 3-time National League MVP (with four runner-up finishes), and 2-time World Series Champion. Finally, he’s all over the record boards. As of the time of this article, he’s ninth all-time in hits (3382), eleventh in runs (1913), second in total bases (6206), fourth in home runs (703), and second in RBIs (2216). In every sense of the phrase, Pujols is a baseball legend.
As the saying goes, legends never die. It was only fitting that on Sunday, Oct. 2, in his final home game as a St. Louis Cardinal, Pujols homered, hitting his 702nd moon shot and tying Babe Ruth for the 2nd most RBIs of all time (marks which he has since eclipsed). In the closing days of the season, Pujols will play out his final games, capping a storybook ending to a brilliant 22-year career run, and step away from America’s favorite pastime.
As fans, we should cherish his remarkable impact on baseball and honor his inspiring, incredible, and illustrious career.