In about 9 months, Albert Pujols could be a free agent. There has been a lot of speculation as to what type of contract he’ll be getting and thus, who his career comparables are. I’ve read a lot of people throw around numbers in Alex Rodriguez’s contract, which set the record a few years ago with the Yankees; 10 years, $275 million. I’ve heard people say Pujols could sign from anywhere between 8 and 10 years, and $240 to $300 million. Every writer I read is discussing the merits and demerits of giving any one person a contract like that. But I haven’t seen something I thought I would – disbelief and outrage. Disbelief and outrage that no matter what the contract is, the Cardinals must re-sign this guy. There is absolutely no amount of money or length of contract that should stop St. Louis from keeping him.
Let me put this out there - Albert Pujols is the best baseball player on the planet. It’s not a secret. Anyone who has watched the game can tell you that – no player on either end of the field affects the game more. There is no one player you have to account more than Pujols.
Whenever I think of guys like Albert, I try to put myself in a practical situation. If I’m a fan watching at home, which guy do I least want coming up in the 8th inning in the playoffs against my team trying to protect the lead? Who would strike the most fear in my Dodger Blue heart? That answer, without question, is Pujols. Albert Pujols absolutely terrifies me with a bat in his hands. When he stands up there at the plate, squatting low in his batting stance, I can see that his leg muscles are a cross between a hippopotamus and the Macho Man, circa 1988. When he holds up his right elbow right next to his head, I can see his freakish Popeye arms with enough power in them to light up Vegas for a week. Then, when he’s rocking back and forth, I can see his squint as he looks 60 feet, 6 inches at the guy about to throw him a ball. That squint says “I eat pieces of shit like you for breakfast”. Pujols scares the crap out of me. More than any player should. He puts the “yep, wow, that was wetter than even I imagined it would be” fear of God into me. And that’s how I know he’s the best hitter in the game.
So the debate should end right there. It should be “this guy is the best player in the game. He should be paid like it. We should mortgage the farm, the kids, the car, the stadium and whatever else I got on this guy, because he is the one person in the league you bet on when your life is on the line”. That should be it. But even when I read other writers acknowledging this, there is still a bit of trepidation and again, the lack of disbelief and outrage that is emanating from this corner of the blogosphere. So let’s go a bit deeper.
My entire problem with this debate of “should be get paid $30 million”, “should he get a 10-year contract”, “will he capsize the Cardinals franchise”, et al is that this is not only the best player in the league, but he is one of the greatest ever. EV-ER (Pay him. I don’t care what it costs. Just pay the man. If the Yankees let Mickey Mantle leave in the 1950’s because it would cost too much, there would still be historians today saying “the Yankees could have won 8 titles if they had just paid up and kept one of the greatest ever to play the game. I can’t say “Pay him” enough times. I feel like Geena Davis in Beatlejuice. I wish I could say this phrase enough times until the fucking problem goes away).
When we’re talking about Pujols, I think it doesn’t do him justice to talk about a contract and look only at the player that has a comparable one. So, I took a look at statistics for who many people consider the 9 greatest players from the modern era (1900 and on). From there, I took their stats from what I considered to be their greatest successive 10-season stretch. Take a look at how Pujols measures up against these giants:
Games Runs Hits HR RBI BA OPS Aggregate Total
Babe Ruth (1919-1928) 1394 1347 1701 450 1291 .353 1.227 23
Lou Gerhig (1927-1936) 1538 1417 2022 390 1527 .350 1.118 16
Joe DiMaggio (1936-1948) 1405 1146 1853 303 1277 .330 0.987 40
Mickey Mantle (1952-1961)1436 1183 1609 361 998 .311 1.017 41
Willie Mays (1956-1965) 1547 1179 1844 389 1074 .315 0.983 39
Hank Aaron (1962-1971) 1521 1072 1766 386 1097 .308 0.954 48
Barry Bonds (1995-2004) 1435 1180 1143 444 1083 .315 1.169 37
Alex Rodriguez (2001-2010)1513 1130 1706 424 1236 .299 0.971 43
Albert Pujols (2001-2010) 1558 1186 1900 408 1230 .331 1.056 22
After ranking these gentlemen 1 through 9, based on their statistics compared to one another, I added up these number values. The sums are under “Aggregate Total”. The lower the score, the higher placing in the various categories:
Lou Gerhig 16
Albert Pujols 22
Babe Ruth 23
Barry Bonds 37
Willie Mays 39
Joe DiMaggio 40
Mickey Mantle 41
Alex Rodriguez 43
Hank Aaron 48
(Now keep in mind, I’m not Bill James. I’m not Keith Law. I’m not even Bill Simmons (Yet). These are just numbers I picked out and deemed the most important baseball statistics, the ones that I think are most telling to a man’s career. I know some are relative to the teams they played on, managers they played for and the parks they played in. I know that the game was very different in the 1920’s than it was in the 1990’s. I know that the physical warfare that was on Mantle’s mind was very different than the social warfare that was on Hank Aaron’s mind. That all being said, there is no way to adjust the game over the years to make everything a fair comparison. I am a stat monkey. This is all I have. And its my blog. So handle it)
Obviously there are some asterisks here, such as A-Rod’s admitted steroid use, Gerhig’s sickness cutting his career short and Mantle’s prime years being taken away due to World War II. But for the most part, the first 10 years of Pujols’ career has matched up right with the greatest ever to play the game. In fact, according to this rough aggregate, he averages higher in all these categories than everyone except for Lou Gerhig.
And this is why it’s important to match up Pujols with guys like the Babe and Gerhig, who got paid 5 figures per season. Because its important to understand that we’re not just dealing with a great player, or the greatest player of our era – we’re dealing with one of the greatest to play in ANY era. Hell, this guy might be one of the top 5 greatest baseball players ever to pick up a bat. Wrap your mind around that – this one guy from a small town in the Dominican Republic has performed better on the baseball field than literally hundreds of thousands of men before him. He has put up numbers greater than most of the all-time greats. If he were to retire today, January 25th, 2011, he would be a Hall of Famer. Imagine where he is in another 10 years. Yikes.
And one more note to chew on – those stats were just the first 10 years of Pujols career. For the other 8 guys on the list, I was able to cherry pick the best 10 years of their career. It is very well possible that we’re only scratching the surface of his potential. He turned 31 years old last week! We’re dealing with a behemoth. A titan. In my estimation, the greatest player ever to step foot on sod. St. Louis, listen up. General Manager John Mozeliak, I know you read my blog (he doesn’t). Pay this guy. Whatever he wants. He wants the ballpark? Cool. He wants the arch? Sure. Want to rename this blog “The Black Mamberto”? Anything. Keep him please. And everyone stop being ridiculous.