Los Angeles Angels first baseman Albert Pujols just crossed off a major milestone on his sure-fire, first-ballot Hall of Fame career. With a grand slam during Saturday’s 7-2 win against the Minnesota Twins, Pujols became the ninth member of the 600 home run club.
The 37-year-old accomplished the feat in the fourth inning of the contest. On the fourth pitch of the at-bat, Pujols tucked an 86 mph slider from Ervin Santana just inside the left field foul pole to reach the milestone in pretty dramatic fashion.
It was his ninth home run of the season. More importantly, It marked the first time player has hit a grand slam to reach his 500th, 600th or 700th career home run, according to Stats LLC.
With the blast, Pujols becomes the ninth player in Major League Baseball history with 600 career home runs. Of the eight players ahead of him, four have been inducted to the Hall of Fame. Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, Willie Mays and Ken Griffey Jr. easily sailed into Cooperstown in their first year of eligibility.
The four other players are a mixed bag. Barry Bonds is still waiting for the call, though his vote totals are trending in the right direction. That’s not the case with Sammy Sosa, who has seen his vote totals drop below 10 percent each of the past four years. The other two players on the list, Jim Thome and Alex Rodriguez, are not yet eligible for induction.
Pujols will more than likely wind up being compared to the first group. Based solely on stats, he’s a lock for induction on the first ballot. Over 17 seasons in the majors, Pujols has a .308/.391/.569 slash line. Since his debut in 2001, Pujols leads all of baseball in home runs, runs scored, RBI and fWAR.
He also has a cabinet full of awards. Pujols took home the Rookie of the Year award in 2001, has been elected to 10 All-Star games and has won the MVP award three times. He also led the Cardinals to World Series titles in 2006 and 2011.
Pujols carries none of the baggage that has prevented Bonds (and will likely delay A-Rod) from getting the call. Despite playing during the steroid era, Pujols has never been connected to performance-enhancing drugs. He’s also been a model citizen off the field.
Pujols has slowed down drastically since joining the Angels in 2012. In his 11 seasons with the Cardinals, Pujols put together an otherworldly .328/.420/.617 slash line, with 445 home runs. In six seasons with the Angels, those numbers have dropped to .265/.324/.470, with 155 home runs.
The one skill Pujols has retained throughout his decline has been his power. Despite his age, Pujols has averaged 33 bombs over the last three years. If he can continue to produce above average pop, Pujols should move up a few slots on the all-time home run list before he retires.
If Pujols can hit 13 more home runs this season, he’ll leapfrog both Sosa and Thome on the all-time list. Griffey and his 630 career home runs represents the first significant challenge for Pujols. If he can manage that, Mays and his 660 would be next on the list.
While that might be tough to expect considering Pujols’ age and recent decline, the 37-year-old is under contract with the Angels through the 2021 season. As long as he doesn’t retire prematurely, Pujols will have four more years to continue adding to what has already been an exceptional career.
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