Much has been made of how much has NOT been made of Albert Pujols‘ pursuit of joining the 500-homer club. As only the 26th player to ever accomplish the feat, it deserves to be lauded, but some feel that, for a multitude of reasons, it hasn’t gotten the same fanfare that something like Derek Jeter‘s 3000th hit got.
I can’t really speak to any of the supposed claims that the 500-homer mark is no longer as special because several players have achieved it recently or that the appreciation of home run numbers has been dampened by the PED and juiced ball issues of the last two decades or even just that the short attention span, high snark atmosphere of the internet doesn’t appreciate things that are historical and not GIF-able. I mean, I could speak to some of those, but I don’t want to.
What I do want to talk about is the Angels part in the hype and lack thereof. Certainly the organization has done its part to promote Albert. Their PR team has certainly trumpeted the chase plenty, even prompting the team to put up a Pujols Homer Counter scoreboard up in Angel Stadium. The problem though is that it feels disingenuous.
Pujols now has 500 homers, but 455 of those homers came with the St. Louis Cardinals. This is so much more their milestone than it is the Angels’. The Halos are the usurpers of history and, frankly, they are no stranger to that role.
Reggie Jackson registered his 500th homer with the Angels as well, but 425 of those homers came before he ever donned an Angel uniform. Rod Carew picked up his 3000th hit with the Halos, but the first 2085 of those came with Minnesota. That’s really a double whammy for the fans involved. Because they didn’t bear witness to the vast majority of the compilation of the milestone, they just aren’t invested in it. As much as I appreciated Pujols as a player when he was in St. Louis, it isn’t the same as watching him play everyday since his rookie season and being there to see him blossom into an all-time great. To then come in at the tail end of a chase that has taken more than a decade and to become invested just isn’t that easy.
The only thing harder than building up that investment is expressing it once it is established. How excited can one really get for Albert hitting homer #500 without coming off as a coattail rider? On the flip side, what is the minimum that must be expressed to show the proper amount of respect for the accomplishment? That’s a tough balance to strike. It certainly was for me because I am firmly in the mindset that this just isn’t an Angels-related milestone. They had almost nothing to do with it and I genuinely feel bad that Cardinals fans were robbed of getting to see Pujols reach this height in a St. Louis uniform. Then factor in that the 500-mark itself is kind of arbitrary and gets its specialness largely from being a nice round number, and I simply fail to muster much enthusiasm.
To me, Pujols is one of the greatest hitters of all time. I felt that way when he had 492 homers, 499 homers, 500 homers and I’ll still feel that way when he hits homer 587 and so on. That’s a really cynical view, one I doubt I would have if we were talking about lifelong Angel Tim Salmon, a player I watched almost every game from his debut to his retirement. Albert, he’s just a Johnny-come-lately. Granted, he is a Hall of Fame Johnny-come-lately, and I appreciate that, but that doesn’t mean I can even pretend to care as much as the mainstream media might think I should.
So, congratulations, Albert. What you’ve done is truly amazing, but it is your accomplishment to celebrate, not the Angels or their fans.