Albert Pujols is planning on retiring after this season, and it’s safe to say that the man they call “The Machine” has done enough to earn some rest. He’s a lock as a first-ballot Hall of Famer. At this point, the only questions are whether he’ll reach the 700-home run milestone and whether he can help lift the Cardinals to yet another postseason appearance.
Pujols has played so well for so long that any list of all-time greats must include his name. He joins Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, and Alex Rodriguez as the only players to reach 3,000 hits and 600 home runs. Once your peer group includes Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, and A-Rod, you have officially made it. Just as fans in St. Louis continue to wear Stan Musial jerseys today, they’ll be wearing Pujols’ officially licensed sports apparel for many, many years to come.
From the DR to MO
Pujols was born in Santo Domingo, in the Dominican Republic, home to such legendary ballplayers as Felipe Alou, David Ortiz, Adrian Beltre, Manny Ramirez, and many more. Pujols grew up living and breathing baseball. Preternaturally gifted, he was soon playing with much older players, facing 90 mph pitching at the age of 13.
As a 16-year-old, Pujols moved to Independence, Missouri, where pitchers learned to fear him very quickly. In his senior year of high school, Pujols came to the plate 88 times, walking 55 times. In his 33 actual at-bats, he still managed to hit eight home runs.
Pujols spent one year playing baseball at Metropolitan Community College – Maple Woods in Kansas City. After hitting a home run and making an unassisted triple play in his first collegiate game, he finished the season batting an unreal .461 with 22 home runs.
The Cardinals drafted him in the 13th round of the 1999 draft. Pujols spent just one year in the minor leagues, making it very clear that he was ready for the big time.
Pujols dominated all leagues in the 2000 season. After he demolished single-A pitching, the Cardinals promoted him to triple-A just in time for him to play in the playoffs. He ended the season batting .314 with 19 home runs across three levels. He was named the MVP of the single-A Midwest League and the postseason MVP of the triple-A Pacific Coast League. Pujols was ready to head back to Missouri, this time in St. Louis.
In his 2001 rookie season, Pujols exploded onto the scene fully formed, playing in 161 games and mashing 37 home runs. Although the Cardinals weren’t quite sure where to play Pujols (they tried him at first, third, left field, right field, and designated hitter), his bat took care of the rest. He took home the Rookie of the Year Award in a unanimous vote. He also won a Silver Slugger, made the National League’s All-Star team, and finished fourth in the league’s Most Valuable Player voting.
Unbelievably, that fourth-place finish was the lowest Pujols would earn in his first six seasons in the league. From 2002 to 2006, he won the MVP once, finished second in the voting three times, and finished third in the voting once.
Pujols won back-to-back MVP Awards in 2008 and 2009, leading the league in slugging, total bases and OPS in both seasons.
In his 11 seasons with the Cardinals, Pujols batted .328, hit 445 home runs, and piled up 1,329 RBIs. He batted at least .300 with at least 30 home runs and 100 RBIs every season in St. Louis except his last. In that 2011 season, he missed each mark by the smallest of margins, hitting .299 with 29 home runs and 99 RBIs.
Pujols also led the Cardinals to seven postseason appearances, flourishing on the biggest stage in sports. He was named MVP of the 2004 National League Championship Series and helped St. Louis reach three World Series, winning it all in 2006 and 2011. In 86 postseason games, Pujols has a .321 average, with 19 home runs.
The City of Angels
Pujols reached free agency after the 2011 offseason, and signed a 10-year deal with the Los Angeles Angels. Although he never quite regained his MVP form, Pujols was a major contributor to the Angels, playing day in and day out and serving as a clubhouse leader despite numerous lower-body injuries. He received his last MVP vote in 2014 and made his last All-Star Game in 2015.
Pujols had knee surgery after the 2012 season and foot surgery after the 2015 and 2016 seasons. In 2018, the 38-year-old Pujols was forced to miss the last month of the season following yet another knee surgery. The declining speed resulting from those leg injuries allowed opposing defenses, shifting more than ever before, to rob Pujols of hits. Between 2015 and 2018, Pujols led all of MLB in hard-hit outs.
In May of 2021, the Angels released Pujols. He stayed on the free agent market for all of four days before signing with the playoffs-bound Los Angeles Dodgers. The Dodgers saw that Pujols could still contribute to a winning team by crushing left-handed pitching. He batted .294 against lefties in 2021. The Dodgers made it to within two wins of the World Series, and Pujols did his part, batting .294 in the postseason.
Pujols was a free agent again after the 2021 season, and he decided to come home to the Cardinals for one last season. He’s still mashing lefties to the tune of a .302 batting average as the Cardinals battle the Brewers for the top spot in the National League Central. Pujols is also finding that in his last season fans aren’t the only ones looking for memorabilia or sports collectibles. Opposing players are getting in on the action too. “It means a lot,” Pujols told reporters, “but they are all asking for a jersey or a bat.” (Fanatics has you covered in that department!)
Any discussion of Pujols is incomplete without mentioning the hardware he’s collected over the years. In all, Pujols has taken home two World Series championships, six Silver Sluggers, two Golden Gloves, and three MVP Awards. He’s played in 10 All-Star Games, including a streak of eight in a row.
With his third MVP, he joined the ranks of luminaries Mike Trout, Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio, Mike Schmidt, Stan Musial, Roy Campanella, Yogi Berra, Jimmie Foxx, and Alex Rodriguez. Only Barry Bonds has won more MVPs.
A look at Pujols’ statistics is just as eye-opening. He’s won a batting title and two home run crowns. Over the years, he has managed to lead the league at least once in every major offensive category except for walks and stolen bases. Unsurprisingly, he’s also led the league in intentional walks four different times.
From an OPS+ perspective, which adjusts a player’s on-base plus slugging to account for all factors, Pujols was the National League’s best hitter four times. By Wins Above Replacement (WAR), which measures overall value in all facets of the game, Pujols was the National League’s best player in five different seasons.
His career totals are staggering. Pujols ranks tenth all-time in hits, fifth in home runs, and third in RBI and total bases. With his 99.2 WAR, he leads all active players and ranks 32nd on the all-time list, just between Warren Spahn and Carl Yastrzemski.
Although there are few barriers to break for a player who’s been around as long as Albert Pujols, he managed to find a new one in May. After putting up 15 runs against the Giants, the Cardinals needed a position player to pitch the ninth inning. Pujols volunteered for the job, lobbing in 50 mph fastballs and cracking up players in both dugouts.
Told after the game that he’d joined Babe Ruth as the only two players with 600 home runs who have also pitched in a game, Pujols joked, “I’m pretty sure Babe Ruth didn’t give up four runs in his first inning like I did.”
Teammate and fellow future Hall of Famer Yadier Molina got in on the action too, telling reporters, “He’s got to learn to keep the ball down.” Just a week later, Molina found himself on the mound. He also gave up four runs. “At least I got an out before they hit a homer off me,” Pujols told him after the game. “You, first pitch, and pow!”
Even his opponents have nothing but compliments for Pujols. After surrendering Pujols’ 3,000th hit, pitcher Mike Leake said, “He’s a competitor at every second that he’s on the field. He’s been a joy to watch and a joy to compete against, for sure.”
In 2006, Pujols hit three home runs off Pittsburgh’s Ian Snell. “I thought it was going to hit the St. Louis Arch out there,” Snell told reporters. “I wanted to go high-five him. That’s unreal. That’s like Superman playing baseball.”
When the Cardinals played in Fenway Park this June, the Boston Red Sox honored Pujols with a number five from the Green Monster’s scoreboard in recognition of his longtime jersey number. Fellow Dominican superstar slugger David Ortiz presented Pujols with the number.
Pujols’ longevity means that he also gets to witness firsthand the new generation of ballplayers that he inspired. Wander Franco, Tampa Bay’s young superstar shortstop and a fellow Dominican, wears number five in honor of Pujols. “It’s pretty special,” Pujols said earlier this year, “But it just means I’ve been playing this game for a long time and it’s time to go.”