Of course this is a magnificent milestone reflecting two decades of achievement. Only three other men in history have reached the 700 Club: Ruth, Aaron, Bonds.
Many people were supposed to make it. Gehrig got sick. Williams went to war twice. Mantle, Mathews and Foxx hit the bottle. A-Rod ran out of time with just four to go. Mays came close, even after losing part of his youth.
But Señor Sluggo endured.
The most interesting thing about this year has been Albert’s complete rejuvenation. In his youthful years with the Cards, he was the best hitter in the game, with a slash line of .326/.417/.612, good for a 169 OPS+. His 1.029 OPS was the sixth-highest in history, behind only Ruth, Gehrig, Williams, Bonds and Foxx. Since four of those guys were American Leaguers, that made Pujols the second-best in National League history.
Even now, he possesses the second-highest OPS in National League history, behind Bonds, but ahead of #3 Hornsby and #4 Musial,
(SIDEBAR: If you do the calculations by AWAY games, Pujols drops quite a bit, and the list goes Bonds-Hornsby-Piazza-Musial-Mays. Most people do not realize how much Piazza’s career was hurt by playing in pitchers’ parks, and therefore do not realize that he was one of the greatest hitters in the history of the NL. Based on rate stats in away games, it’s very close between Piazza and Hornsby for the best right-handed hitter in NL history. Piazza has a higher slugging average, but Hornsby makes up the difference and more in OBP. By the way, Piazza’s lifetime batting average on the road was .321 – pretty impressive when you consider that Ted Williams and Stan Musial “only” batted .328 and .326 on the road. Any time you are in the same general category as those two guys, it shows that you could swing that stick.)
During his stint in LA, Pujols was at best an average-hitting first baseman, with a .758 OPS for the decade, and even worse numbers toward the end. In his last five years in California, his OPS+ was 87, and his on-base percentage was a paltry .290, which basically made him the equivalent of a weak-hitting shortstop taking up a slot at first base or DH that would normally be occupied by a big hitter.
But something miraculous happened this year.
It didn’t start out that way. In early July he was hitting .198 with 4 homers, and it appeared that he would never get the 17 additional dingers he would need to reach 700. But the miracle happened around July 10. Somehow, out of nowhere, he fully rediscovered his youthful stroke. “After his 2-for-4 night Friday, he is batting .319/.381/.696 with 15 home runs and 38 RBIs in 48 second-half games.”