(Photo Credit: REUTERS/JENNIER BUCHANAN)
Albert Pujols padded what was already a Hall of Fame-caliber resume last night when he scored career hit number 3,000 in his Los Angeles Angels' 5-0 victory over the Seattle Mariners at Safeco Field. In the top of the fifth inning, Pujols laced a single to right field off Mariners righty Mike Leake before his teammates gathered on the field to congratulate him.
It was a wonderful moment in what has already been a storybook career for Pujols. Even if he chose to retire after last season, he still would have earned a spot in Cooperstown. Now, he is one of just four players with at least 600 career home runs to go with 3,000 hits, the others being Alex Rodriguez, Hank Aaron, and Willie Mays. There's still a lot of baseball left to be played this year, so what more can Pujols look forward to now that he has joined this exclusive club?
Surefire Hall of Famer
As I just mentioned, Albert Pujols getting his 3,000th hit was not the end all-be all of his getting a Hall of Fame plaque. Currently in his 18th major league season, the 38-year-old has a long list of accomplishments that make him a hands-down candidate for Cooperstown. In time spent with both the Angels and St. Louis Cardinals, Pujols will go down as one of the most feared hitters of all time despite being on a noticeable decline for the past few years.
Who was once a perennial .300-plus hitter each season now bats at or around the .250 mark. His walks are down and his strikeouts are up. What was once feared isolated power has dipped below .200. Though he still hits well enough to be in the Angels' everyday lineup, Pujols is not who he once was and everyone knows it.
And yet, even on the decline, he is a future Hall of Famer. He has three MVP trophies to his name to go with an NL batting title he won in 2003. He won two World Series rings with the Cardinals, in 2006 and 2011. He has been named to ten All-Star teams and has received six Silver Sluggers, plus a pair of Gold Gloves at first base.
Throw in 3,001 career hits and 620 homers (so far) to go with a .304 lifetime batting average, and Pujols could retire today and still be a first ballot Hall of Famer. If there's any player who has nothing left to prove, it's him.
And yet, Pujols seems far from finished with his life on the baseball diamond. Though he need not keep padding his numbers, he is earning $27m this season and has another three years and $87m remaining on his current contract. He technically could retire and leave all that cash on the table but knowing Pujols as a competitor, he probably won't.
And nor should he, unless he loses his skills at the plate overnight. Pujols is part of a strong young Angels team that features the best player in the game in Mike Trout, not to mention other strong talents like Justin Upton, Andrelton Simmons, and rookie sensation Shohei Ohtani, among others. Not only that, the Angels are currently tied with the defending World Series champion Houston Astros for first place in the AL West. If the team is this close to playoff contention, why walk away?
Pujols is also within reach of yet another exclusive career milestone, his 2,000th career RBI. Only four other ballplayers have reached that mark in their careers: Aaron, Rodriguez, Babe Ruth, and Cap Anson. That's phenomenal company in which to be and with his career total standing at 1,937, Pujols could easily achieve that milestone this season.
Also, with three years left on his deal after 2018, Pujols could easily hit 700 home runs or more. He already has six homers on the year and to give some perspective, Pujols did not hit his sixth home run of 2017 until May 24. He may not be a regular 30 to 40 home run threat like he was early in his career, but he can easily join that exclusive club on top of his 2,000th RBI if he maintains a similar pace for the rest of his career.
Long story short, though he can easily step away from the game now and have a guaranteed spot in the Hall of Fame, Albert Pujols is far from finished with baseball. Hopefully, fate cooperates with him because it too seems baseball is far from finished with him.