The 700 home run club is one of the most exclusive in baseball, but now it has a fourth member: Albert Pujols.
You don’t wallop that many homers without creating a lot of jaw-dropping numbers along the way, and that is certainly the case for The Machine. So to celebrate the latest achievement in a Cooperstown-bound career, here are seven figures that help tell the story of Pujols’ long ball greatness.
Earlier this season, Pujols broke Barry Bonds’ Major League record of homering off 449 different pitchers, and then he kept right on going. This is something that truly differentiates Pujols and his contemporaries from players in other eras. Babe Ruth spent virtually his entire career in an eight-team American League with no Interleague Play, homering off just 216 different pitchers in the process. Pujols has victimized only two pitchers for more than five big flies: Ryan Dempster (eight) and Wade Miller (six). Ruth did that to 38 different pitchers.
The more you think about this stat, the more astounding it is. If you counted only the first homer Pujols hit off a pitcher, he still would rank 40th on the all-time list with 455 home runs, just above Hall of Famers Carl Yastrzemski, Jeff Bagwell and Vladimir Guerrero.
That’s how many of Pujols’ total have come off pitchers who already are in the Hall of Fame. Included in that is five big flies off Randy Johnson — more than anyone other than Chipper Jones hit against the Big Unit. Pujols also managed three apiece off Greg Maddux and John Smoltz and one apiece off Trevor Hoffman and Mike Mussina. Against those five Cooperstown-bound hurlers, Pujols hit a collective .358 and slugged 1.011 with a homer every 8.6 at-bats.
And what about a younger generation of pitchers, whose Hall of Fame cases have yet to be heard? Pujols also has gone deep off, among others, Cole Hamels (four), Madison Bumgarner (three), Justin Verlander (two), David Price (two), Félix Hernández (one), Zack Greinke (one), CC Sabathia (one) and Kenley Jansen (one).
Given that there are only 30 MLB ballparks at any given time, homering at 40 different stadiums is a sure sign of longevity. Among other defunct venues, Pujols is the only remaining active player to have homered at Cincinnati’s Cinergy Field (the predecessor to Great American Ball Park), and San Diego’s Qualcomm Stadium (the predecessor to Petco Park). He and Miguel Cabrera are the only ones left to have homered in Montreal.
There’s also the way Pujols has spanned eras. He has by far the most home runs at the current Busch Stadium (120) but also hit the fourth most at the previous version (94), which last hosted a game 17 years ago. Pujols is one of 20 active players to hit at least 94 homers at a single ballpark and the only one to do it at multiple parks — except actually he’s done it at three, also including Angel Stadium (110).
That was Pujols’ total through his first 11 seasons. It’s been thrilling watching him surge to the finish line this year, but don’t forget: He set the stage for this milestone early in his career. It’s one of the most amazing, out-of-nowhere stories in baseball history. In less than two years, Pujols went from being drafted in the 13th round out of a junior college (1999) to starting for the Cardinals on Opening Day (2001) as a fully formed hitting machine.
He walloped 37 big flies during that NL Rookie of the Year campaign and averaged 40 over 11 seasons during that first stint in St. Louis, never hitting fewer than 32. Pujols’ 445 homers during the first 11 seasons of his career is a record — 46 ahead of the closest challenger (Eddie Mathews). Had Pujols simply retired at that point, he would still rank 43rd on the all-time list.