On a beautiful night in September, the St. Louis Cardinals are hosting the Los Angeles Dodgers. With two outs and nobody on in the first and the third batter of the inning due up, the away crowd gets on their feet and cheers as if the Cardinals had just won the World Series. Future Hall of Famer and former Cardinal, Albert Pujols has just come to the plate.
Trying to keep his composure, Pujols raises his helmet to the crowd and takes it all in. After what felt like an hour, Pujols finally digs in. And on the fourth pitch of the at-bat, Pujols connects with a fastball off veteran pitcher J.A. Happ and puts it in the left field seats. Pujols has just homered in what is likely his last series against the Cardinals. While he rounds the bases, it almost seems like a metaphor for his career coming full circle. With the dirt crunching beneath his cleats and the roar of the crowd, one can only imagine what is going through his mind. As great of a career Pujols has had, it was also just as improbable. How did a 13th round draft pick from the Dominican Republic become one of the greatest players of all time?
When Pujols was drafted by the Cardinals in round 13 of the 1999 draft, he and his wife Deidre were broke and expecting a child. While Pujols’ wife wanted him to reconsider his future, he made a deal with her— one year in the minors and if he doesn’t make it to the MLB, he’ll quit. This may not sound crazy, but the odds of making it to the show for a draft pick after round 10, is only 11%. This task is nearly impossible. What happened next may as well be a movie. Pujols went through every level of the minor leagues in one season and batted .314 with 19 home runs. He was called up to the majors after just one year and started his Hall of Fame career in 2001.
The first 10 years of his career may be the best 10 years any player has ever had. During that period, he averaged 40 home runs, 121 RBIs, slashing .328/.420/.617, accumulated a WAR of 86.6 and won three MVPs. To put those numbers into context, when Miguel Cabrera hit for the triple crown in 2012, he had 44 home runs, 139 RBIs and batted .330. By his fourth year, Pujols was the best player in baseball. On top of the regular season success, Pujols is also one of the best postseason hitters of all time. Batting .321, slugging 19 home runs, giving one player PTSD and winning two World Series with the St. Louis Cardinals.
On top of being one of the best hitters in baseball, Pujols was also one of the best fielders. Accumulating 138 defensive runs saved and having the best defensive season ever for a first baseman in 2007, with 31 DRS.
With the career of Pujols coming to a close, his resume speaks for itself; 679 home runs, 3301 hits, 2150 RBIs, and one of only two players to have at least 600 home runs, 3000 hits and 600 doubles, with the other being Hank Aaron.
So, while Pujols rounds the bases in the stadium of his former team, he can think back to when he was growing up in the Dominican Republic, using milk cartons as gloves and limes as baseballs. Think back to the two World Series he won with the Cardinals, or think about how, against all odds, as a 13th round pick out of Community College, he made it to the MLB and became one of the greatest players of all time.