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Friday, December 19, 2014

Here’s Hoping Pujols is Unlike the Others

Albert Pujols is at it again.  The one hitter in the MLB who seems unaffected by the Steroid Era year after year already had five home runs in his first seven games and is hitting .400 through the first nine.  Actually, Pujols just broke a Major League record for the most home runs by a hitter through his first 10 seasons in the league when he belted his 371st career homer. Not bad for a guy who has 153 games remaining in his 10th season to shatter that record. That’s not to say Pujols has not had his fair share of naysayers and accusers – he’s had plenty.  That goes with the territory, and if you read Sports Illustrated’s cover story before last season kicked off, you’d get a sense that Albert understands that.  Pujols’ career numbers are absolutely mind-boggling.  He’s yet to finish a season hitting under .314, with less than 32 homers, or under 103 RBI.  Yes, that includes his rookie year, when he batted a modest .329 with 130 RBIs.  Even Derek Jeter, one of the most pure hitters in the history of Major League Baseball, failed to reach an average of .300 four times in his astonishing career.

At a time in the game where it seems most stats have been enhanced by steroids, the closest link for Pujols to PEDs came with the release of the Mitchell Report, when an erroneous report said Albert was on the list.  Shortly thereafter, Pujols’ name was cleared from the smoke.  The unfortunate reality for Pujols is that playing in this era of baseball means he’s guilty by association and it leaves us open to question his accomplishments. For instance, MLB’s current drug testing system does not detect human growth hormone, which would certainly help a hitter reach the levels that Pujols has already ascended to at the age of 30.  As for the argument that he’s never tested positive for steroids, that’s questionable because there are plenty of ways around those so “tests” they issue professional athletes.  People are entitled to their opinions, and if you want to take the cynical view in analyzing Pujols’ career, that’s certainly your prerogative, but it’s not how I choose to view things.

I’m a true believer that once the Steroid Era comes to a close — which it will with time, technology, and better ways to test players — fans will be able to look back and admire one great hitter who managed to build a Hall of Fame career while staying true to the integrity of the game of baseball.  For a while, that player was supposed to be Alex Rodriguez – a first overall draft pick with pure, genuine, God-given talent who would inevitably break the career home run record set by steroid villain, Barry Bonds.  Turns out we had crowned A-Rod the clean king only to be let down by his admission of steroid usage, not to mention Jose Canseco’s belief that A-Rod’s been on the stuff since high school.

Next, along came David Ortiz.  Was he a threat to make Bonds’ reign as home run king a short one? Hardly.  A shoe-in for the Hall of Fame?  Not a chance.  Ortiz may not have had the talent of Rodriguez nor the Hall of Fame credentials of Roger Clemens, but at least he was a fan’s player. Ortiz ruined that trust with the fans by telling them that all they’d find in a drug test of him is “rice and beans.”  It was refreshing, but like the story of so many others, Ortiz was proven to be a steroids fraud.  The same can be said of McGwire, Palmeiro, Bonds, Ramirez, Giambi, the mystery Hall of Famer Canseco has yet to reveal, and countless other players who have dominated the game for an extended period of time.

Nobody’s telling you to believe player’s claims of being clean considering how many ballplayers have ruined the trust with their lies. After all that’s come out the past decade, I’d be naive to be stunned if a report came out tomorrow providing hard evidence that Pujols has been pumping steroids since his days in high school and the minor leagues.  That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t be severely disappointed, and I know I’m not alone in that thinking. After all, recall some of Pujols’ words in the cover story from SI last year:

I fear God too much to do anything stupid like that. You know how I want people to remember me? I don’t want to be remembered as the best baseball player ever. I want to be remembered as a great guy who loved the Lord, loved to serve the community and who gave back. That’s the guy I want to be remembered as when I’m done wearing this uniform. That’s from the bottom of my heart.”

Keep doing what you’re doing, Albert, and you just might be able to have it all.

Sources:
Pujols solves Rodriguez, surpasses Matthews [stltoday.com]
The Power To Believe [Sports Illustrated]



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