By Robert Dominguez
Being a baseball immortal ain’t what it used to be.
When Anaheim Angels DH Albert Pujols joined the 600-homer club in “grand” style — a bases-loaded slam on June 3, 2017 against the Minnesota Twins at home — the then-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, a lock for the Hall of Fame after a 19-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. Or the media, for that matter.
Blame the state of the modern game, in which diluted pitching and the dark cloud of PEDs that hung over baseball in the Steroid Era has caused many a fan to merely shrug when someone reaches even the once-exalted 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 in 1967, only Babe Ruth and Willie Mays were charter members.
Of the dozen most-recent players joined the club, nine have been linked, either directly or indirectly, to PED use — and even Pujols was caught up in the rumor mill, though there’s never been any proof he juiced.
Regardless, Pujols is undoubtedly one of the greatest hitters ever, no matter the era. With 656 lifetime homers, he’s just five long balls away away from passing Willie Mays (660) for fifth on the all-time list.
Pujols, who will be 40 next season and has slowed down considerably in the past few years, had a decent 2019 with the Angels, slamming 23 homers and driving in 93 runs. He has two more years on a contract that ends after the 2021 season, when he’ll be 41.
If he stays healthy, he has a strong chance of becoming only the fourth member of the exclusive 700 Club that boasts Barry Bonds (762), Hank Aaron (755) and Babe Ruth (714) as members.
Pujols will also become the top Latino slugger of all time if and when that happens. Next up on the HR list is Alex Rodriguez, who with 696 is fourth overall.
The only active player with just a shot at 500 dingers right now is the Tigers’ Miguel Cabrera. The 36-year-old from Maracay, Venezuela, finished 2019 with 477 homers but has only hit 15 in the past two seasons as age and injuries have slowed his fast-track to Cooperstown.
Here are the Top 10 career home run leaders among Latino players:
1. Alex Rodriguez, U.S./Dominican Republic – 696
2. Sammy Sosa, D.R. – 609
3. Albert Pujols, D.R. – 656 (active)
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 – 477 (active)
10. Vladimir Guerrero, D.R. – 449
Robert Dominguez is co-author of “Bronx Bummers: The Unofficial History of the New York Yankees’ Bad Boys, Blunders and Brawls.”
Source: Erik Drost – Under Creative Commons license