Largely out of nowhere, St. Louis Cardinals slugger and future Hall of Famer Albert Pujols has become one of the true feel-good stories of the 2022 MLB season.
As Jesse Rogers noted for an ESPN piece published Friday morning, 10 of the 14 home runs Pujols has on the season heading into the weekend’s action have been belted since the beginning of July. The ageless 42-year-old is tied for the MLB lead in homers and leads the entire league in batting average, OBP, slugging and OPS for the month among players with at least 40 plate appearances.
Pujols’ 693 career home runs have him three away from tying Alex Rodriguez, seven away from 700, and 21 away from matching the iconic Babe Ruth and, at worst, holding a tie for third on the all-time MLB list.
Despite his hot streak, Pujols told Bob Nightengale of USA Today this past weekend he’s sticking to his plan of retiring whenever the Cardinals play their final game of the campaign.
“I’m still going to retire, no matter whether I end up hitting 693, 696, 700, whatever,” Pujols said at that time. “I don’t get caught up in numbers. If you were going to tell me 22 years ago that I would be this close, I would have told you that you’re freakin’ crazy. My career has been amazing.”
Not everyone is so sure.
“I don’t know if he really wants to be done after this year,” Cardinals infielder Paul DeJong said, per Rogers’ piece. “He’s playing amazing. If he goes out like this, he’s going to go out on top. I think he can pass Babe Ruth, but we’ll see what happens.”
Perhaps unintentionally, Chicago Cubs pitcher Drew Smyly made an argument for why Pujols should reconsider.
“He’s covering curveballs down and fastballs up,” Smyly said of Pujols’ current run of form. “At least against lefties, you can feel him trying to hit the ball in front of the plate instead of seeing it deep, like most hitters. You hear that a lot in baseball, ‘see it deep.’ It’s kind of opposite of what most hitters do. He’s trying to hit the ball in front of the plate; it looks like he wants to pull everything. Usually, if you’re doing that you have to cheat on a fastball or curveball. He’s hitting both right now.”
It’s easy for Pujols to declare today he would be fine with riding off into the sunset with, say, 699 career round-trippers. One wonders, though, if individuals such as DeJong could convince him to return next spring to chase 715, one of the most hallowed marks in baseball history.