The 700-homer club is still one of the most exclusive in all of sports. Until last Friday night, it consisted of only three players: Hank Aaron, Barry Bonds*, and Babe Ruth.
There’s still an undeniable romance and magic associated with the number 700. Even as prodigious home run totals were devalued in the steroid era — many still consider Aaron the true home run king, not Bonds — the homer is still baseball’s signature play.
It’s easy to forget, but 714 — Ruth’s career total — was once the most treasured number in all of sports. Hank Aaron’s assault on that record as a black man playing for a Southern team was a watershed period in American history, one that carried the sociological freight of a century of racial imbalance in America’s Pastime.
Albert Pujols is a most welcome gatecrasher to the 700 Club, and the fact that he crossed the threshold as a Cardinal is a well-earned gift to the fans in St. Louis, whose civic identity is largely built around their beloved Cardinals. Aside from being the Gateway City or the former murder capital of the midwest, St. Louis is hands down America’s best baseball town. And that’s why it deserves this season’s feel-good story — the final act of the greatest Cardinal of them all, Albert Pujols.
The city that made legends of Stan ‘The Man’ Musial, Bob Gibson and the Gashouse Gang exulted as home run number 699 and 700 sailed into the night sky some 1,800 miles away in Los Angeles. The appreciative Dodger Stadium crowd afforded its esteemed visitor, and former player, a rare road curtain call.
It’s a remarkable and fitting coda to a legendary career.
Pujols’ first 11 seasons as a Cardinal (2001-11) were some of the most productive in baseball history, waking echoes of Stan Musial, Ted Williams, and Joe DiMaggio. Take Albert’s 12 seasons as a Cardinal, and you have a Hall of Fame profile — 466 homers, a .326 batting average and a .417 on-base percentage, numbers that are remarkably similar to Musial’s career totals.
Then came an ill-fated detour to Anaheim, where Pujols more closely resembled a Brewers-era Hank Aaron than a vintage Hammerin’ Hank. In nine-plus seasons as an Angel, Pujols’ on-base percentage was .311 and his batting average .256, shocking sub-replacement-level numbers that chipped away at Pujols’ aura while handcuffing the franchise thanks to a monstrous contract — a 10-year, $254 million deal that ended with the Angels meekly releasing Pujols in May of last year.
Fast forward to the summer of 2022, and the baseball gods have smiled on Pujols and the fans in St. Louis. The man who is arguably the greatest first baseman in history signed a one-year deal to end his career as a Cardinal, providing a perfect ending to a Hall of Fame career.
And then a funny thing happened: Sometime in late July, he started looking and acting like the old Albert Pujols. At the same time, he started reaching career milestones at a remarkable pace. He passed Musial for second all time in total bases, trailing only Hank Aaron, after having passed Musial for third place all time in extra-base hits earlier in the season. He reached 2,200 career RBIs, becoming the third player in history to do so. He homered off his 450th different pitcher, breaking Bonds’ record in that category. Since the All-Star Break, the man they once called The Machine has hit .315, with 15 homers and a 1.053 OPS.
Yes, baseball has lost its luster and fallen a few pegs in the American sports hierarchy. But there are occasional reminders of its long-gone status as a cultural touchstone. Pujols’ 700th home run, accomplished in a Cardinals uniform, was one such occasion.
The views expressed in this piece are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.