Monday, July 13, 2009

He's Not 'Just Albert' Anymore

Opposing teams have only one game plan against the St. Louis Cardinals, and that is not letting Albert Pujols beat them…yet he continuously does. At the All-Star break, he is currently batting .332 with 32 home runs, 87 RBIs, and is on pace to hit 62 home runs this season.

Roger Maris held the major league single-season record at 61 home runs for more than three decades, and that was the summit for sluggers to climb for each season. Unfortunately, many of them succumb to the pressures of chasing an unbreakable record. That was until the steroid era of the Nineties.

Live 2009 All Star Game Odds & Props

St. Louis Cardinal Mark McGwire reached the summit on a September night in 1998, as he hit his 62 home run over the left field fence in old Busch Stadium. Chicago Cub Sammy Sosa engaged him in a season-long race to Maris’ crown that many in baseball believe saved the sport from extinction. McGwire ended the season with 70 home runs and followed that up with hitting 65 in 1999. Sosa ended his 1998 campaign with 66 home runs, and went on to hit over 60 bombs in two of the next three seasons. Then Barry Bonds began to flex his newly-develop muscles, as he became the new single-season record-holder by hitting 73 home runs in 2001. In four years, three players combined to hit over 60 home runs six times, a feat that hadn’t taken place in over 30 years. That’s odd, was it something in the water?

Look, everyone was guilty of being naïve during the steroid era; fans cheered for over-sized hitters and ignored the fact that their added bulk wasn’t natural. There’s currently a growing movement in baseball to re-establish Maris’ mark as the legitimate home run record. Fans want their all-time home run king to be natural, and Pujols stands out as their new hope. Bonds, McGwire, Sosa, and more recently, Alex Rodriguez are not worthy of this status. And as far we know Pujols has passed every test administered to him.

2009 All Star Game Match-up Tools & Handicapping

King Albert is a different type of home run hitter, as he draws walks and has a low strikeout ratio. The career .334 hitter is the prototypical baseball player, a hard worker who is very graceful in the field. Pujols has shifted from LF to 3B and finally is anchored at 1B without much fanfare. Despite all the position moves, he never stopped hitting, especially at the art of smacking the ball out of the park.

The only way a hitter can challenge for the home run crown is to get at-bats. The Cardinals are lacking protection behind Pujols in their lineup. Look for opposing managers to intentional walk him rather than pitch to Pujols. So far, the lack of a big stick behind him hasn’t mattered much this season.

Pujols is the perfect candidate that could allow us to put the steroid era in our rearview mirror. We need baseball to recapture being the glorious game of our youth, and unfortunately, it hasn’t been for a long time.

Is this a home run chase to savor? Well, with his swing and demeanor, Pujols is the obvious choice to break the record. And unlike Bonds, he is someone that we all can root for.

Written By Thomas Conroy
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