Given the times, there was a lot of speculation. There were rumors, as there are for anyone who puts up those kinds of numbers. Some even had him on a list or two. But even though his sin was more evident than just about anyone in the history of baseball, no one could get him.
Albert Pujols is guilty of playing in the National League, which is undoubtedly the greatest performance-enhancer of all.
Pujols cracked homerun number 40 on Sunday afternoon, but a better indicator of just how far the certain NL MVP is from his competition might be new teammate John Smoltz. After putting up numbers your beer-league softball pitcher would be ashamed of in Boston, Smoltz pitched like Bob Gibson in his first start for St. Louis, setting a Cardinals record by striking out seven consecutive hitters and getting the win.
Smoltz is just the latest player to come over and dominate the inferior league. Matt Holliday was traded to St. Louis just before the deadline and hit .400 for over a month. Since his trade to Philadelphia, Cliff Lee has been the best pitcher in baseball. And of course last year you’ll remember C.C. Sabathia and Manny Ramirez were sent to the National League at mid-season and proceeded to lead Milwaukee and Los Angeles to the playoffs.
Pujols has been there all along, exploiting thin pitching staffs to the point that he’s become the most realistic Triple Crown threat in decades.
That he plays in the weaker league doesn’t necessarily make Pujols’ numbers any less impressive or authentic. Or does it? Any Cardinals fan would be quick to point out that he is a career .355 hitter against the American League, but it is worth noting that he is on pace to have his best season at a time when the gap between baseball’s two leagues has never been so wide.
Two of the top three teams on the planet might play in the National League. But the next 13 come from the American League. Then you have a handful of teams from the International League. And you might have to look at a few teams playing in Williamsport this week after that.
Only then can you start to consider the rest of the National League.
This is the same argument that has been made in some of the other sports. Nobody took the NBA’s Eastern Conference serious two years ago because three of its playoff teams were .500 or worse for the season. In College Football, it’s a virtual guarantee that whatever Big East team qualifies for a BCS Bowl will face criticism for playing in such an awful league.
Pujols probably deserves to be subjected to similar questions. He might very well be the best player in baseball, but it’s only fair that we put his gaudy numbers in perspective. It’s not his fault, but his second-rate competition hurts his mystique.