Albert Pujols has always been revered as a first ballot Hall of Famer. However, he sealed his place in Cooperstown on Tuesday by becoming the twenty-sixth player in Major League history to hit his 500th career homerun. And now the discussions have begun: How many homeruns will he hit? How many RBI’s will he reach? Did he do PED’s? Is he as old as he says he is? And the most intriguing of all for me: Which team will he represent? With these questions running about, how about we take a closer look at the Hall of Fame status of Albert Pujols.
One might think that the team Albert should represent is not even a question. Well, they’re right. As of now, Albert Pujols would represent the St. Louis Cardinals if he retired today and were elected five years from now. That’s a no-brainer. But that’s not exactly the point.
Albert Pujols still has seven years left on his contract after 2014. And it looks now as if being healthy is propelling Albert back towards the menacing presence he was before his knee and foot injuries finally caught up to him last season. He’s 34 years old, and if he averages just 15 homeruns over the duration, he’ll easily reach 600. It will take averaging 30 over that span to reach 700. To beat Barry Bonds’ possibly bogus record, Pujols would have to average 40 homeruns per season. The first two are very attainable. The third is probably not.
Pujols is also the third youngest player to reach 500 homeruns. He also has the third highest career batting average (.321) of all players who have reached 500 homeruns, behind Babe Ruth and Jimmie Foxx. And the hits just keep on coming. Pujols will pass about seventeen players on the all-time RBI list. Some of those players include George Brett, Mike Schmidt, Rogers Hornsby, Harmon Killebrew, Al Kaline, Willie McCovey, Willie Stargell, Joe DiMaggio, Tris Speaker, and Jeff Bagwell. And with as many years left on his contract, Pujols would have to average 112 RBI over that span to pass Babe Ruth for first all-time. That actually seems more realistic than the homerun record.
After all, Albert Pujols has always been a hit and extra base hit machine, not necessarily a 50 to 60 homerun hitter. The RBI might very well be Pujols’ legacy.
But wait a minute. Are we talking about what Pujols can accomplish, or are we talking about what team he can go into the Hall of Fame with? It still is the latter, actually. Because we’re talking ten years of historic milestones… with the Angels. This is a fun argument that I’ve already had with fellow fans.
Albert has accumulated a load of awards with the Cardinals: 9 All-Star appearances, 6 Silver Sluggers, 3 MVP’s, 2 Gold Gloves, and 2 World Championships. All of that was with the Cardinals. So there’s a strong argument for Albert to represent them in the Hall. But again, there are seven-year left on his contract, and that leaves room for him to make a case with for the Angels.
Before judging this argument, consider some history. That’s what we’re here for. And there are two prime examples of players who have been, or will likely represent a team they did not have their best years with on paper.
Reggie Jackson had his best years with the Kansas City/Oakland Athletics from 1968 through 1975. He won almost all of his awards with the A’s, including two championships. He continuously made the All-Star Game through 1984 with the Angels. The only two other awards he received after his tenure with the A’s were two Silver Slugger Awards in 1980 with the Yankees, and in 1982 with the Angels. Jackson played 10 total seasons with the A’s, and 6 with both the Yankees and Angels, and one with the 1976 Baltimore Orioles. Almost all of his best years were with the A’s. Yet, he represents the Yankees in the Hall of Fame. Granted, it was his choice in those days. But it’s very likely the Hall would’ve picked the Yankees any way, because that’s the team most fans associate Reggie Jackson with of the top of their heads. Especially his 3-homer game in the 1977 World Series.
So Albert Pujols may have had his best years with the Cardinals so far, but like Reggie Jackson there is plenty of time for Albert to accomplish much more with the Angels, especially since the Angels are a high market team. Ch-ching? Reggie went from a small market to a high market. That kind of exposure alone can influence Hall of Fame status.
Then there’s Nolan Ryan. He’s in Hall representing the Texas Rangers. It was his choice. But would the Hall have picked the Rangers if it was up to them back then? Possibly. They could’ve picked the Astros. But Ryan had his best years with the Angels. He set several historic milestones with the Halos, and didn’t do much of that until around 1990 when it was nearing his time to hang it up. It’s a good debate. Which team do you associate Nolan Ryan with more? I lean toward the Rangers, to be honest.
And now we come to a player who officially retired this season, and will very likely reach the Hall of Fame: Vladimir Guerrero. The debate has already started there. Some believe he’ll represent the Expos because he had his best years with them. I say, “So what?” All of his accolades came with the Angels. All of his national exposure came with the Halos. Who do you most associate Vladdy with? I say the Angels.
So what we have here are examples of Hall of Fame players who may have had their best years with one team, but represent another because that’s the team they are most associated with. Right now, for Albert Pujols, that team is the Cardinals. However, should Albert Pujols continue plowing through historic milestones with the Angels, and perhaps even build up several postseason appearances with the Halos, it is very possible for Albert Pujols to end up representing the Angels in the Hall of Fame. But as it stands now, it’s the St. Louis Cardinals.
The Hall of Fame status of Albert Pujols is pretty much set in stone. It’s a given he will be in Cooperstown, probably in… 2026! That’s a long way. Man might be going to Mars by then. All that’s really left are the milestones, and the debates. That’s what we have to look forward to for the rest of Albert’s career. And this discussion is just one of thousands, maybe millions that will take place between now and the time Albert Pujols is elected to the Hall of Fame. It’s still a long ways away. So until then, we’ll just have to see exactly where Pujols stands among history, and which team he will be most associated with, when he retires… in 2021.