As he closes in on 3,000 hits, Albert Pujols is still putting in the work, on and off the field (2024)

This is baseball’s rarified air, its Mt. Olympus. Here players are so renowned they go by single names – Babe, Hank, Willie – and their accomplishments are sporting legend. Invitations are not issued, but earned.

Almost 20,000 players have participated in Major League Baseball and only a precious few can be considered with the greatest of all time, an upper echelon that makes room for the Angels’ Albert Pujols.


After hitting his 619thcareer home runWednesday, he now sits at 2,994 hits. He is poised to become only the fourth player in baseball history with at least 600 homers and 3,000 hits, joining Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and Alex Rodriguez.

“It seems like every time he gets a double or a home run or an RBI, you see one of the all-time greats flash on the board that he’s passed,” said Angels manager Mike Scioscia. “It gives perspective on how good Albert’s been and how good he is right now. It’s fun to watch.”

Now 38 years old, the designated hitter/first baseman’s annual production has declined; he is no longer the player who arrived with the Cardinals in 2001 and finished in the top five in NL MVP voting in 10 of his 11 seasons, winning it three times. But even a diminished Pujols remains productive. He has started this season with five home runs and 14 RBI and continues to bat cleanup for the Angels.

“This is one of the greatest run producers of our generation,” said Angels general manager Billy Eppler. “I don’t know any comment that could be better than that.”

In St. Louis he was beloved, a product of the Cards system skyrocketing to superstardom. In Orange County, it feels closer to respect and admiration. He can appear very serious, his focus legendary. At 6-foot-3 and 240 pounds, he remains physically imposing, and whether by intent or not, he can be intimidating.

He still moves into that distinct crouch for his stance, steely eyed on the pitcher and all concentration. He is that rare hitter who can be patient enough to spray line drives but still tap into his enormous raw power.

The Giants’ Bruce Bochy has been managing against Pujols since he first arrived on the major league scene as the NL Rookie of the Year with the Cardinals.Eighteen years later, Pujols remains a problem for Bochy, last week hitting agame-winning two-run homer against San Francisco.


“When I first saw him, he was just so strong,” Bochy said. “But a simple swing with power to all fields. Pretty amazing that ball he hit yesterday. At his age, he can still drive the ball.

“He’s one of those guys, it seems like he’s coming up every inning because you were thinking about him all the time.”

If “The Machine” appears stern on the field, in the dugout he can be seen breaking into wide grins while interacting with teammates. When he plays the field, he often engages with players who reach first base.

And even during pregame around the batting cages, opposing players frequently surround the barrel-chested Pujols. Jose Mota is a former major leaguer whose father, Manny Mota, was a legendary pinch hitter for the Dodgers, and like Pujols, born in the Dominican Republic. José Mota now serves as an Angels broadcaster, but has known Pujols since his rookie season when Mota was working for the Fox Spanish-language telecasts.

“When visiting teams come in and Albert is around the cage, watch where they gravitate,” Mota said. “There’s always that connection from the past or something he might have done for them charity-wise that they go, ‘Albert’s here. Let’s go see Albert.’”

Indeed, Pujols is that rare player whose accomplishments off the field almost match those on it. He and his wife, Dee Dee (Deidre), started the Pujols Family Foundation in 2003. It focuses on children with Down syndrome and helping impoverished families in the Dominican Republic. When Pujols married Dee Dee in 2000, she had a daughter with Down syndrome.

That constant outreach partially explains why he was cherished in St. Louis.

“He was revered here,” said Rick Hummel, who has covered the Cardinals for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch for 42 years. “The Pujols Foundation has always been a big part of his life. He’s done tremendous work for that organization.


“It seems he would always hit a home run on Buddy Walk Day. The Down syndrome kids would come to the ballpark and he would promise them a home run, and he’d hit it. He might hit two. He rarely ever missed.”

Said Mota: “When I see him around Down syndrome kids? Oh, my god, he melts. When I see him around his own kids, around his wife, with his teammates interacting – he’s not that stoic view that you see on the field. He’s fun.”

Said Scioscia: “I don’t know if people get a chance to see how much he and Dee Dee do on the human side. They’re tireless fundraisers. They help out in so many ways. It’s inspiring to see what they do off the field.”

On the field he continues to rack up milestones. He currently has 1,932 RBI (ninth all time) and has a chance to reach the 2,000 mark this season. That’s been done by only three players in baseball history – Babe Ruth, Aaron and Rodriguez.

“He’s set a standard that may never be set again,” Mota said. “But because of those standards, he expects more of himself. Albert is not sitting on the glory of, ‘I’m about to get 3,000 hits. I’ve hit 600 home runs.’ He wants to see howtonighthe can beat that pitcher.

“Superstars, they’re proud people. He’s a very humble guy, but those guys became superstars because in their mind there was only one thing they were thinking of – Best at what I do. And whatever it’s going to take workwise, I’m going to do it. And that’s your standard.”

Pujols does not grant the Anaheim media many interviews and he does not talk about records until they happen, so it can be difficult to gauge how important the swelling list of records is to him. Those who know him best, however, say he is keenly aware of his place in history and the records do mean something to him.

“I’m sure they do,” Hummel said. “What strikes me the most about all this is, he was very aware of baseball history. Especially history in St. Louis. He and (Stan) Musial became pretty close before Stan died.


“We’re at the funeral parlor, Albert and I must have spent an hour talking to each other just about Stan and everything else. He knew all about Stan and what Stan had meant to the Cardinals and the community. He was just happy to be mentioned in the same sentence with Stan.”

Eppler is less certain, though he does have a theory.

“My hypothesis is that he looks at this as a job,” Eppler said. “When his car pulls into the parking lot, he starts work. When he leaves the parking lot, he’s done with work for the day. I think when he looks back on his career, that’s when he’ll understand and realize his impact. Right now, I think he’s a day-to-day, blue-collar player.”

Hummel can think back to a moment that let him know Pujols was aware of his numbers, and what people were saying about them.

“One time early in the season I said on a radio show he was hitting a light .320 or whatever,” Hummel said. “At the point he had very few extra-base hits. It kind of stuck in his craw and he brought it up again … at the announcement when he won the MVP.”

These days, with his advancing years and battles with plantar fasciitis, he is not even close to being the best player on his own team. That honor belongs to Mike Trout, generally viewed as baseball’s best player. Pujols slipped further away from the media glare on the Angels with the arrival this season of two-way Japanese sensation Shohei Ohtani.

Still, on he goes. He has three more years left on his 10-year, $240-million contract. A contract that provides a $3 million bonus for reaching 3,000 hits.

The years and the numbers fly by, Pujols still working, still undergoing the same daily routine, the same constant preparation. Still climbing to rarified heights.

“This guy has a passion to do the right things,” Mota said. “That’s the one thing about Albert since I met him. This is before he was a superstar, when he barely made that team out of spring training because of an injury. Albert is 100 percent on everything – taking ground balls, exercising, his time in the cage, being a dad. If it’s charity, it’s 100 percent to that.

“His focus is unmatched.”

(Top photo of Pujols: Erik Williams-USA TODAY Sports)

As he closes in on 3,000 hits, Albert Pujols is still putting in the work, on and off the field (2024)


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What was Albert Pujols' nickname? ›

Nicknamed "the Machine" (Spanish: La Máquina), Pujols is considered to be one of the greatest baseball players of all time.

How old was Pujols when he went to the Angels? ›

They made this offer despite the fact that Pujols was entering his age-32 season, which would take him until he was 42. “The Machine” (as he was known) was as much a part of the fabric of St. Louis baseball as Stan Musial and Bob Gibson, and the club made an incredibly generous offer to make him a “Cardinal for Life.”

Are the Angels still paying Pujols? ›

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Is anyone with 3,000 hits not in the Hall of Fame? ›

Of the 30 players in the 3,000-hit club who have reached Hall of Fame eligibility, 27 have been voted in. The three who have not – Pete Rose, Rafael Palmeiro and Alex Rodriguez – have been tied to either gambling or steroid controversies.

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Albert Pujols won 2 championships in his career.

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During a 22-year career, Pujols has 3,312 hits, 681 home runs, 2,156 RBIs ... and one pitching appearance. Pujols pitched the ninth inning, allowing four runs, three hits (including two home runs) and a walk. That's a 36.00 ERA and a 4.00 WHIP.

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Who is the oldest player in MLB? ›

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What MLB player lied about his age? ›

Based on the reports, the Dominican Republic age scandal has reached new heights. Nightengale said that one player lied for a handsome sum, while another suggested a tremendous age gap: "One player had a handshake agreement for $6 million. Another claimed he was 14 years old when he actually turned out to be 21.

Has Albert Pujols retired? ›

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