St. Louis Cardinals designated hitter Albert Pujols (5) watches after hitting a home run during the fourth inning of a baseball game against the Los Angeles Dodgers in Los Angeles, Friday, Sept. 23, 2022. Brendan Donovan and Tommy Edman also scored. It was Pujols' 700th career home run. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

Albert Pujols and his Journey to 700 Career Home Runs

In the season that was announced to be the last of his 22 years in the majors, Albert Pujols tied a knot for his Hall of Fame worthy career as he will forever engrave his name alongside some of baseball’s greatest players—that is, the elite 700 career home run club. 

Here is how the 700 home run club now lines up with Pujols: 

    1. Barry Bonds- 762
    2. Hank Aaron- 755
    3. Babe Ruth- 714
  • Albert Pujols- 703 

However, getting to the 700 home runs became somewhat of a mid-season resurgence for Pujols. Joining the Cardinals in what would be his last season, Pujols brought it back to where it all started for him with his St. Louis Cardinals, and little did he know it would be a season for him to remember for the ages. 

Albert Pujols began his career after being drafted as the 18th pick in the 13th round of the 1999 draft by the St. Louis Cardinals. Making his debut for the Cardinals in 2001, Pujols had begun his career with a bang. He was selected for his first All- Star game that year, and as the season ended, he won the N.L. Rookie of the Year award, and a Silver Slugger award. Pujols even came in fourth place for N.L. MVP after an outstanding start to his career. In 2001, Pujols ended his season batting .329/.403 OBP/.610 SLG/1.013 OPS, smashing 37 home runs and driving in 130 RBIs and ended with a 7.2 WAR. 

For the next three years, Pujols was putting up similar All-Star numbers with the Cardinals, arguably building up a successful dynasty in the early 2000’s and in the early years of his career. It wasn’t until 2005 where Albert would win his first MVP title of his career and deservedly so. In 161 games, Pujols led the league in runs and intentional walks while he put up a superb batting performance. In 2005, Pujols batted .330/.430 OBP/.609 SLG/1.039 OPS, with 41 home runs and 117 RBIs and a 7.7 WAR. 

In 2006, Pujols continued to put up big numbers for the Cardinals, proving himself to be a power force not only for the Cardinals but throughout the whole league. But instead of walking away with an MVP or Silver Slugger, he walked away with his first World Series Championship, the first of two he would earn in his major league career. For the next five years, the Cardinals as a whole weren’t as successful as they had been with their victory in 2006, but you can’t say the same for Albert Pujols. Throughout the next five years, Pujols was named an All-Star in all of them, won three Silver Sluggers and won MVP in both his 2008 and 2009 seasons. 

In 2011 and Pujols’ 10th major league season, his powerhouse numbers still didn’t slow down. And similar to the 2006 season, Pujols finished up his season with another championship ring. The 2011 postseason proved to be a success for Pujols as well. In total for all three playoff series, Pujols hit five home runs, knocked in 16 RBIs and batted .353/.463 OBP/.691 SLG. 

It was true, Pujols was living up to his nickname, The Machine

But, as with all fairytales, this came to an end. For Pujols, this meant that his time in St. Louis—the city where built up a career and just won a championship— was over. Following his successful championship run with the Cardinals, Pujols abruptly signed a 10 year, $254 million contract with the Los Angeles Angels. Thus ending the early 2000’s dynasty for the Cardinals. 

In a move that shocked longtime fans and in a signing that felt like betrayal, Pujols was met with backlash, backlash that was especially prominent in the growing world of social media. And although that backlash didn’t travel with him to Los Angeles for the next decade, an evident decrease in offensive production did. 

The once hitting machine that Pujols became during his time in St. Louis was not the same Pujols that signed with the Angels. His first full season in Anaheim was not so much of a fluke, however an interesting fact is that for the first time in his career, Albert didn’t finish within the top 10 for MVP. 

Pujols did put up similar power numbers in terms of home runs and RBIs every few seasons in Anaheim, but it was clear that he was not as consistent a batter in terms of other metrics. One valuable way to measure how much value a player has to his team is with WAR. In his first 10 seasons with the Cardinals, Pujols put up a total WAR of 81.2. One would think those numbers would carry over to his new home town of Anaheim, but it wasn’t even close. Throughout his time in Anaheim, Pujols never put up a WAR higher than 3.3, and had a grand WAR total of 12.8. 

It wasn’t until 2021, the last year of his 10 year deal with Anaheim, where Pujols was DFAd and picked up by the cross town rival Dodgers. Pujols ended his time in Anaheim batting .256/.311 OBP/.447 SLG/.758 OPS with 222 home runs and 783 RBIs. A significant decline in productions for Pujols in his early career years in St. Louis. 

In my opinion, I think that his short tenure with the Dodgers became the spark that came about for Pujols. Back in Anaheim, they weren’t nearly as successful as the Dodgers have been for the last decade. I believe it took that playoff atmosphere in 2021 for Pujols to turn his career around, even if it was only for a season, it was a feeling that was mostly unfamiliar for Albert since his early days in St. Louis. 

Circling back to 2022, where Pujols was now back in front of the fans in St. Louis for his last season, it came almost as a shock for everyone around the league, including Pujols himself, that he was able to reach 700 home runs. In the first half of the 2022 season, Pujols wasn’t close to reaching that milestone, batting .215/ .301 OBP/.376 SLG/.676 OPS with only six home runs. However, in the second half Pujols completely turned his season around. It seems as though the invitation to the Home Run Derby in Los Angeles was another spark for him, one where he ended up pushing to the semi-finals. 

In the second half after the All-Star break, Pujols batted .323/.388 OBP/.715 SLG/1.103 OPS— a significant improvement for Albert as he pushed his way closer and closer to 700 until September 24th in Los Angeles against his former Dodgers, his name was officially marked in the 700 home run book. Finishing off his career with now 703 career home runs, Pujols can almost certainly retire happier than he thought he would seven months ago. As for the Machine, his legacy will forever live on to be remembered throughout MLB and in the history books.

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