Albert Pujols’ Assault on Maris

Pujols 1

Imagine, for a moment, that the home run totals of Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Barry Bonds and any other slugger strongly linked to steroids between 1998 and 2007 never happened. Not that they were invalidated in retrospect or slapped with an asterisk, but that they had never even happened in the first place.

Nobody knows what BALCO is, George Mitchell is still only known for his work in Israel, and the most home runs ever hit in single season is still 61. (Really, the only thing we’d miss are those “Chicks Dig the Long Ball” commercials.)

Well, guess what? Albert Pujols is on pace to end this year with about 59 home runs. OH MY GOD! HE HAS A SHOT AT THE RECORD THAT HAS STOOD FOR ALMOST 50 YEARS!

Now, I realize that this scenario is imaginary, but right now Pujols is having a very impressive year. He is batting .336 with 32 home runs, 85 RBIs and an astonishing .739 slugging percentage. It is getting to the point where you have to consider walking him with nobody on base. His OPS is 1.202; no player has had an OPS that high over a full season since Barry Bonds.

And that’s the problem. Pujols is putting up Bondsian numbers, and we all know how Bonds put those numbers up. Before Bonds, the last player to put up an OPS that high was, er, Mark McGwire.

As Joe Posnanski pointed out a few months ago in his SI article on Pujols, the better Pujols hits, the more suspicion is heaped on him, fairly or not.

The thing is, there is no reason, other than mere association with baseball’s Steroid Era, to believe that Pujols has ever used steroids. He has never tested positive, like Rafael Palmeiro and Manny Ramirez. He has never been affiliated with distributors of steroids, like Bonds and Jason Giambi. He was not named in the Mitchell Report, like Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte.

Even the circumstantial evidence is not really there. Unlike some players, Pujols’ power numbers have been a model of consistency. While 2009 is shaping up to be his best year, he has never hit fewer than 32 home runs in a season, or OPSed less than .955. He has finished in the top-5 of MVP voting every year of his career, except for his horrendous down year in 2007, when he hit 32 home runs, had 103 RBIs and had an abysmal OPS of .997….Was he even trying?

As for his physical body-type, he hasn’t bulked up or put on weight in any way indicative of someone using PEDs. Here is a picture from his rookie season is 2001:

Here is one from this year:

That’s not quite this:

Posnanski even mentions in his SI piece how Pujols has always been suspected of being older than he claims because of his large body-type.

So let’s assume, despite all of our understandable cynicism and doubt, Pujols is not on PEDs—he is just a freak of nature.

Well, maybe we should be treating this season with a little more gravity. Maybe Pujols just may break what many still consider the “real” home run record. And maybe he’ll do it without any chemical help.

The summer of 1998 was thrilling for baseball fans. Every McGwire/Sosa at-bat drew fans to the TV. Now, it’s obviously hard for fans to try and go through that again—it’s like getting remarried after finding out your first wife was cheating on you for ten years—especially when there is the possibility that this is a fraud, too.

But I, for one, believe in Pujols and I want to make home runs fun again. So after the All-Star Break, I’ll be rooting for him to pass Maris.

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