It is always fun to debate with your friends and colleagues whether Barry Bonds would have been a Hall of Famer if he had (a) never taken performance enhancers or (b) never been a San Francisco Giant, and by fun we mean “attack your face with a clawhammer instead of considering such a thing.”
On the other hand, you could also ask in the alternative, “Would Albert Pujols be a Hall of Famer if he had never played for the Angels or Dodgers?”, and by that we mean if he had literally stopped playing baseball after he left for Anaheim and stayed retired until he picked it up again this year in St. Louis.
The answer even in those constricted circumstances is a resounding, “Hell yes.”
He wouldn’t have the chase for 700 homers he is realistically in after last night’s dinger against the Cubs put him at 693; in that way, with only 463 homers we probably wouldn’t be paying as much attention to him today. He’d have one more than Jose Canseco and Adam Dunn and two fewer than Dave Winfield, and what’s the fun in that?
It is, however, a revelation to see his Baseball Reference page and see the stark contrast between his Missouri years and his years of delightfully compensated but otherwise unrewarding exile in what Bill Hicks liked to call Hell-A. Even this year, in which he is a part-timer, he is remarkably efficient and even visibly whimsical.
Now this is part where you shriek, “Aha! Steroids!” and to that we say, “Sure, fine, whatever. Find those receipts, Moriarty. Knock yourself out.
The point is, barring the results of your drug research, this is one of those rare you-can-go-home-again tales where a great player leaves a great situation, becomes ordinary and barely noticed for a decade, then goes home for a retirement jaunt and relocates the thing he had all along. It’s basically an Afterschool Special, with The Rock as Pujols, Ryan Reynolds as Paul Goldschmidt, and Keira Knightley as Lars Nootbaar.
True, most of this has been done since the all-star break, after which he took a .215/.301/.376 slash line and doubled it, and even at that he was really only noticed once the Cardinals stopped acting like the Brewers and took command of the easily seized NL Central race. As a happy coincidence, Pujols’s resurgence and that of the Cardinals is a Venn Diagram superimposed upon itself, and if that causes hives, twitching, and even scurvy in the Defector offices due to bad memories of Leitch gone by, facts are facts, ma’am. The Cardinals aren’t the Dodgers, mind you, or really even the Mets, but their record since the break (20-7) is keeping them apace with Los Angeles (24-7) and New York (21-10), and even with a doughy second half schedule of losing teams and free-falling Yankees and Brewers, you can only win the games you play.
Anyway, Pujols remains the man who went to Hollywood, found money, mediocrity, and anonymity, then went home to tidy up his affairs and is having the time of his life. In St. Louis. Make of that whatever you like. We’re assuming it’s either the toasted ravioli or the debilitating disease known as the Angels. They’re both bad for you, but at least one tastes good.