Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Baseball Trivia: Phat Albert Adjacent

Albert Pujols turned 41 back in January, just before starting his 21st Spring Training in the bigs. His baseball career is old enough to buy some Mad Dog 20/20 and sneak it into the ballpark which is quite impressive. And then you look at the numbers – if you didn’t already have them kind of memorized – and he’s had a truly magnificent big-league career.

Given his age and the fact that his contract expires after this season, I would think it’s not outlandish to entertain his retirement as a possibility. I’m not talkin’ about TMZ or whoever reporting that his wife is allegedly dropping retirement hints on social media either. I mean a legit chance this is his last season playing Major League Baseball notions of retirement. You can couple the fact of pure longevity with the statistical validation that, since signing with the California Angels of Orange County, The Machine has averaged 1.48 bWAR per season. His “anti-slash” line, the dropoff from his St. Louis Cardinals years to his Arte Angels years, is .071/.108/.168.

Before you jump to the comments and hate on me, take this in the context that I love the guy as a ballplayer. I absolutely cherish the fact that I get to recount watching his entire career the way my mom would talk about Willie Mays.

Poor guy just had a steep decline……and he still put up RARE EARTH type numbers. If you could monetize Pujols’ career numbers, you’d be able to afford the dopest personal NFT gallery ever. Basically, it’s a lot easier to list off what Pujols is NOT the active career leader in. That would be triples, steals, caught stealing, strikeouts, slash line, OPS+, and hit by pitches. Put that on my Tombstone and eat it! On Friday night, in his sixth plate appearance of the season, Pujols dispatched an 85.6 mph Dallas Keuchel cutter into the afterlife for his 663rd career homer.

Since it was earlier in the second game of the season, it got me wondering. Just how many career homers has The Machine logged on Opening Day?

Prince Albert has posthumously knighted five baseballs on Opening Day during his tenure as baseball royalty. He did this most recently on March 29th, 2018. That Thursday afternoon, he sent a 92.3 mph sinker off of Kendall Graveman to…well…the grave, man.

That is the lone Opening Day dinger Pujols has with the Angels; the other four are with the Gateway Gang. Those occurred on April 3rd, 2006 and April 5th, 2010. Yeah, you read that right. Four homers in two Opening Day games. Four homers, off four different pitchers in two Opening Day games and two of them were solo shots and two drove in two runs. The last of these four bombs – which he hit in the 7th inning on April 5th, 2010 – is the only one that came off of a former (or future) teammate.

He was a teammate of Pujols out of camp to start the 2004 season with the Cardinals. He was the primary 7th and 8th inning bullpen arm for Tony La Russa’s squad; filling that role in over half of their April games. Through his first four appearances, this righty had a 0.00 ERA in 5.2 IP, but his fifth appearance was a disaster.

In the span of four outs, he gave up sacrifice flies to Adam Everett and Richard Hidalgo due to runners he put on with a wild pitch, two singles, a double, and his own error during a pickoff attempt. He would end up allowing five runs, four of them earned. Over the next two-plus weeks, he would make eight more appearances, totaling 10.1 IP with seven runs allowed (six earned).

Barely into May, his ERA was 5.19 with a record of 3-2 burdened by two blown saves, and the biggest injustice of all was that he needed Tommy John surgery. In 2006, he had Tommy John again. He wouldn’t return to the majors until 2008, when he would be in the Cincinnati Reds’ bullpen for three seasons. At least he was spared the ignominy of being on a 105-win team that got stomped in the World Series and instead delighted in his post-op physical therapy sessions.

He was drafted four times. The first time in the 51st round in 1993 by the Montreal Expos, then two years in a row (’94-’95) by the San Francisco Giants, and finally in the 13th round in 1996 by the Minnesota Twins out of the University of Tennessee. He would begin his career with the Twins as a starter in 1999.

His 6.84 ERA was, unfortunately, well substantiated by a 5.36 FIP and he was giving up homers at a rate of 1.3 per nine innings pitched. He only appeared in 263 big league games, but he was just shy of 24 in his MLB debut and had recently turned 35 in his final game. Our pitcher of perplexity shares a last name with a United States President who was assassinated while watching a production of “Our American Cousin.” Who is this lump of -0.2 bWAR with no mentionable nickname on his player page?

Take a look here for the ANSWER.