Saturday, October 24, 2009

Albert Pujols: Player of The Decade

Studious Metsimus has been reporting on all things Mets for a few months now, but today we're going to step aside and give credit where credit is due. We're going to acknowledge the amazing accomplishments of an opposing player, a man who has taken the baseball world by storm since making his major league debut in 2001 and has become the model of consistency and excellence that all players strive for.

Today we're reserving a special blog for Albert Pujols of the St. Louis Cardinals, Studious Metsimus' player of the decade.

José Alberto Pujols was born on January 16, 1980 in the Dominican Republic and moved to the United States in 1996. Mets fans might be curious to know that Pujols and his family first moved to New York upon arriving in the United States. However, it is not true that the presence of Rico Brogna at first base for the Mets caused Pujols' family to move to Independence, Missouri.

After a spectacular high school baseball career in which he twice earned all-state honors, Pujols spent one season in a Kansas City area community college, where he continued to mash the ball at a torrid pace, hitting .461 in his only college season.

Despite his accomplishments on the field, major league teams were hesitant to sign Pujols. His hometown Kansas City Royals passed on him even though they barely had a major league team to put on the field. The Tampa Bay Rays were so unimpressed with Pujols that they asked him to try out for the team as a catcher. Scouts did not believe that Pujols was still in his teens and shied away from the older-looking player.

It wasn't until the St. Louis Cardinals decided to take a chance on El Hombre (which is Spanish for "The Man", which was the nickname of Cardinals' legend Stan Musial) by selecting him in the 13th round of the 1999 draft with the 402nd overall pick that Pujols got his chance to show off his natural ability and God-given talent to the masses.

After a superb season in the minor leagues in 2000, the Cardinals still planned on sending Pujols to Triple-A Memphis for the start of the 2001 season. Then a funny thing happened on the way to the minors.

Former Met whipping boy and then-Cardinals' third baseman Bobby Bonilla, the same man who threatened reporter Bob Klapisch by "showing him the Bronx", hurt his hamstring (poor baby), opening a spot on the roster at third base for Pujols. Once Bonilla returned, Pujols bounced around between the infield and the outfield. Although Mark McGwire was still a Cardinal, injuries prevented him from playing the entire season at first base. Pujols' versatility and big bat forced manager Tony La Russa to find a place in the lineup for him every day and the Cardinals were rewarded with a phenomenal rookie season that earned Pujols the 2001 NL Rookie of The Year Award.

Pujols didn't become a full-time first baseman until 2004 as he spent two seasons as the Cardinals' left fielder in 2002 and 2003. By then, he had already established himself as one of the premier players in the game, ranking high on most of the offensive leaderboards.

Still, one thing eluded El Hombre. He didn't have a World Championship ring to go with all his other hardware that he had collected in his early career. He had appeared in one World Series in 2004, but the Cardinals were swept by the Boston Red Sox in that year's Fall Classic. Two years later, Pujols' dream came true. My fellow Mets fans, I advise you not to read the next paragraph.

After a mediocre regular season in which they went 83-78, the Cardinals snuck into the playoffs as the 2006 NL Central division champions. However, they saved their best for last as they defeated the San Diego Padres and the New York Mets in the playoffs. The Cardinals went on to defeat the Detroit Tigers in five games to win their first championship since 1982 and their tenth World Series overall.

Pujols already had the accolades and respect from his teammates and the rest of the league. Now he had the ring to cap it off (and his first Gold Glove Award, also won in 2006). According to a recent article by Joe Strauss in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, even Mets manager Jerry Manuel couldn't help but praise Pujols as the biggest star in the game.

"I don't think there's any doubt where he stands. From what I know of him as an opposing manager and what little relationship I have with him, the man seems as good as the player. It adds up to be a superstar and that's what he is."

Albert Pujols has been one of the most consistent hitters since his rookie season in 2001. His numbers compare favorably with some of the all-time great hitters in baseball. Consider his year-to-year production with the St. Louis Cardinals and you tell me if there's any hitter in baseball who can match his offensive output:
  • 2001: .329, 37 HR, 130 RBI
  • 2002: .314, 34 HR, 127 RBI
  • 2003: .359, 43 HR, 124 RBI
  • 2004: .331, 46 HR, 123 RBI
  • 2005: .330, 41 HR, 117 RBI
  • 2006: .331, 49 HR, 137 RBI
  • 2007: .327, 32 HR, 103 RBI
  • 2008: .357, 37 HR, 116 RBI
  • 2009: .327, 47 HR, 135 RBI
If you take his "worst" numbers for each offensive category mentioned above (if you can call it worst), he's never hit less than .314 and never had less than 32 HR and 103 RBI. What player wouldn't take a season like that? And that's the LEAST you can expect from Pujols!

So why is Studious Metsimus naming Albert Pujols as its Player of The Decade? If what you've read so far is not enough, ponder this.

For the decade of the '00s, (I know some people say the decade lasts from 2001-2010, but for this blog, let's just use the 10-year span from '00 to '09.) Albert Pujols led the National League in all three Triple Crown categories (batting average, home runs, runs batted in). Very few players even challenged him in those three categories.

Pujols hit .334 over the past decade with 366 HR and 1,112 RBI. The runners-up in each category are Todd Helton (.331 average), Adam Dunn (316 HR) and Lance Berkman (1,026 RBI). Please note that Berkman is almost 100 RBI behind Pujols but he played all ten years from 2000-2009, whereas Pujols was still in the minors in 2000, making Albert's RBI output all the more impressive.

His work on the field has been wonderful, but his work off the field is just as special, if not more special. In 2005, along with his wife Deidre, the couple started the Pujols Family Foundation, which serves to help people living with Down syndrome and their families. The foundation also helps raise money for the poor in Pujols' native Dominican Republic.

Note: For more information and to donate to the foundation, please click here: Pujols Family Foundation.

Multiple MVP Awards, two NL pennants, one World Series championship, the Gold Glove in 2006 and the Triple Crown winner for the decade of the '00s. It all adds up to a well-deserved Player of The Decade honor from Studious Metsimus to José Alberto Pujols.

Just think, Mets fans. Had the Mets' scouts noticed Pujols before the Cardinals did in the 13th round of the 1999 baseball draft, we wouldn't have to be wondering who our first baseman would be in 2010. Look how many players have spent significant time at first base for the Mets since 2001: Todd Zeile, Mo Vaughn, Jason Phillips, Mike Piazza, Doug Mientkiewicz, Carlos Delgado and Daniel Murphy. All those years without a steady first baseman (other than Delgado) while the Cardinals have employed the dictionary definition of steady.

Congratulations to El Hombre, the steady Albert Pujols for his Studious Metsimus Player of The Decade honor. Since Pujols won't turn 30 until January, don't be surprised if another Player of The Decade honor is bestowed upon him for the decade of the '10s. That's consistency. That's a Hall-of-Famer. That's Albert Pujols.

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