Albert Pujols Can’t Hurt You Any Longer, Cubs Fans

Albert Pujols entered his age-45 42 season needing 21 homers to reach the rarified air of 700 that only three previous players had surpassed. He hit only six dingers over 173 plate appearances in the first half while batting .215 with a .676 OPS, but then something changed. And no, I don’t mean pitchers throwing him cookies, though that didn’t hurt.

Over his last 155 PAs, Pujols is batting .319 with a 1.076 OPS and 15 jacks. The two most recent of those came Friday night in Los Angeles and gave him Nos. 699 and 700 for his career, which is pretty freaking cool even if you’re a Cubs fan. Maybe especially if you’re a Cubs fan, since it means the aged slugger will actually retire and end his decades-long dominance of his division rivals.

Pujols has homered 59 times against the Cubs, but just think about how much higher that number would be had he not spent nearly 10 years playing in Anaheim. The Astros are the only team Pujols has victimized to a greater degree, with his 62 homers against them coming as a result of their move to the AL West in 2013. Still, it took The Machine 1,117 at-bats to amass those homers against Houston. His 59 against the Cubs came in just 701 ABs.

I wasn’t able to verify this, but I think they actually credited Pujols with 10 homers for that cartoonishly monstrous blast against Brad Lidge.

Pujols homered against the Cubs once every 11.88 at-bats versus once every 16.69 ABs when facing any other team. A lot of that is due to him facing the Cubs 19 times a year during his prime seasons, but he’s still popped two in 29 ABs against them this season. Pretty impressive for a guy who will be Medicare-eligible before he can be elected to the Hall of Fame.

Speaking of which, some of the 700 baseballs he’s launched over various fences will surely end up in Cooperstown soon. Not the biggest of them, though, at least not right away. The fans who came away with the historic hit left Dodger Stadium with the ball after having it authenticated. Cardinals officials reportedly met with the fans and made offers for the ball that were not accepted.

“I don’t have any problem if they want to keep it,” Pujols told reporters. “If they want to give it back, that’s great. But at the end of the day, I don’t focus on material stuff.”

Regardless of what eventually happens with it and how much a collector pays to pry it loose, I’m glad noted man-baby ballhawk Zack Hample was busy trying to get No. 61 from Aaron Judge. Wanna hear something wild? With 218 career homers, the hulking outfielder would need to jack 482 more in order to tie Pujols. That means he’d have to average 40 homers per season for 12 more years, which would put him right at his own age-42 season.

Could it happen? Sure, but this is only the second season in which Judge has eclipsed 40, the first of which came when he hit 52 in 2017. My recommendation would be for Judge to sign with the Cubs and spend a few years in the hitter-friendly environs of the NL Central. Just a thought.

Now back to Pujols for a bit since this is, after all, about his career achievement. Even as a Cubs fan, it’s nearly impossible not to have a helluva lot of respect for this dude and what he’s done. Other than the whole business of divorcing his wife shortly after she underwent surgery to remove a brain tumor, that is. As for the baseball side of things, this is someone who rose out of complete obscurity to become an all-time great.

Pujols played just one season in the minors, during which he had a total of 15 plate appearances above High-A. Hell, he only had 89 PA’s at that level and skipped Double-A entirely following 440 PAs at Low-A Peoria. The Cards called him up in 2001 at the age of 21* and he ran away with Rookie of the Year honors by belting 37 homers with a 1.013 OPS. He finished no lower than fourth in NL MVP voting in each of his first six years in MLB, winning once. Then, after a ninth-place finish in 2007, he was named MVP twice in a row.

Over his first 10 years in MLB, Pujols only had an OPS lower than 1.000 in two seasons and his worst result during that stretch was .955 in ’02. For context, there have only been 29 total seasons with a 1.000 OPS or greater by 1,397 qualified hitters over the last 10 years. Pujols was over 1.100 four times in those 10 years, but there have been only five such seasons since 2013. No player has more than one in that stretch.

While I know there are some among you, mostly on Facebook, who will refuse to acknowledge even grudging respect for Pujols as part of your sworn duty to Cubdom, it’s time we all dropped that façade. At a time when much of baseball’s magic has been replaced by science, Pujols is a throwback. Romanticism still exists if you know where to find it, but some players are steeped in the kind of mythology that feels as though it’s been passed along by word of mouth rather than YouTube highlights.

Or maybe it’s both, as seen above. This thread from Bleacher Nation’s Bryan Smith spells out the tall tale of Pujols in a way numbers can’t.

What it all comes down to is that no matter the regard in which you hold him, Pujols can’t hurt the Cubs or their fans any longer. That alone is reason to celebrate his latest historic achievement.

Ed. note: This post initially said only two players had reached the 700-HR milestone, which was a veiled joke about people not believing Barry Bonds’ results are legit. But I realized it fell flat in light of my other allusions to Pujols’ questionable age being a little more obvious. Getting cute didn’t really work, so I changed it.

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