Photo by Patrick Smith / Getty Images
Story by Robert Dominguez
Being a baseball immortal ain’t what it used to be.
When Anaheim Angels DH Albert Pujols recently joined the 600-homer club in “grand” style — a bases-loaded slam on June 3, 2017, against the Minnesota Twins at home — the 37-year-old Santo Domingo native became the fourth-youngest player in history to hit 600, the ninth overall, and only the third Latino to reach that milestone.
While Pujols, already a lock for the Hall of Fame after a 17-year career and counting, was recognized across baseball for his rare achievement, it somehow didn’t have the same kind of buzz it would have gotten from prior generations of baseball fans.
Blame the state of the modern game, in which diluted pitching and the dark cloud of PEDs that hung over baseball in the so-called Steroid Era has caused many a fan to merely shrug when someone reaches even the once-exclusive 500-homer mark.
There are currently 27 players in the 500 Club, with 12 of them having hit number 500 since 1999. (Pujols is the only active player among them). Fifty years ago, when the Yankees’ Mickey Mantle hit his 500th on May 14, 1967, only Babe Ruth and Willie Mays were in the club.
Of those 12 recent players who slammed No. 500 since 1999, a whopping nine have been linked, either directly or indirectly, to PED use — and even Pujols has been rumored to be a juicer, though there has never been any proof.
Regardless, Pujols is hands-down one of the greatest hitters ever, no matter the era. With 601 lifetime homers as of mid-June (10 so far this year), he can conceivably end the 2017 season in seventh place behind Ken Griffey Jr.’s 630.
Pujols, who last year banged out 31 HRs, will easily pass fellow Dominican Sammy Sosa (609) and Jim Thome (612) in coming weeks. Pujols has four more years after this one on a contract that ends after the 2021 season, when he’ll be 41. If he stays healthy, he will likely become only the fourth member of the exclusive 700 Club that boasts Barry Bonds (762), Hank Aaron (755) and Babe Ruth (714).
Pujols will also become the top Latino slugger of all time if and when that happens. After Sosa, the only other Hispanic hitter high on the career home-run list is Alex Rodriguez with 696 — good for fourth overall.
(The only active player with a shot at a lifetime career mark of 600 dingers is the Tigers’ Miguel Cabrera, who at age 34 has 451 HRs.)
To put Pujols’ achievements in perspective, one other comparison deserves a mention. It may be way too early to consider whether Pujols has a realistic shot at Bonds’ all-time HR record, but it’s not out of the question to think the Angels’ big basher can make a legitimate run at it if he continues to produce into his early 40s.
Through his age 36 season, Hank Aaron, who played for 23 seasons and retired at age 42 in 1976, had a total of 592 homers.
Through his age 36 season, Pujols had 591.
Here are the Top 10 career home run leaders among Latino players ( * denotes still active):
1. Alex Rodriguez – U.S./Dominican Republic – 696
2. Sammy Sosa – D.R. – 609
3. Albert Pujols* – D.R. – 601
4. Rafael Palmiero – Cuba – 569
5. Manny Ramirez – D.R. – 555
6. David Ortiz – D. R. – 541
7. Carlos Delgado – Puerto Rico – 473
8. Jose Canseco – Cuba – 462
9. Miguel Cabrera* – Venezuela – 451
10. Vladimir Guerrero – D.R. – 449
Robert Dominguez, a senior editor at the New York Daily News, is also the managing editor of Viva, The News’ Latino lifestyle magazine, and is the co-author of “Bronx Bummers: The Unofficial History of the New York Yankees’ Bad Boys, Blunders and Brawls.” firstname.lastname@example.org
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