Wednesday, August 19, 2009
The Man and El Hombre
Can anyone under the age of 45 ever truly understand how great Stan Musial was? We all know the legend and the respect he commands. But can any of us rattle off the top of our heads why he was so good? Let's start with some general numbers.
3630 hits, 4th all time behind Pete Rose, Ty Cobb and Hank Aaron.
7-time Batting Champ
4-time World Champion
24-time All Star. (They played 2 a few years)
All this while missing the 1945 season in the Armed Forces.
Those numbers in themselves show great longevity and talent. Specifically, the 7 batting championships stand out. In comparison Ichiro, Albert Pujols and Todd Helton have the active highest batting averages in MLB today. They have a combined 4 batting titles. Musial has a .331 career mark and 475 homers to go with it. The only left handed batters with a .330 average and more home runs are Ted Williams, Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig.
But there are two lesser know stats that make Stan "The Man". 475 home runs may not be all that many these days, but I'm sure Stan could have hit more if he wanted to. Stan retired with 725 doubles, THIRD all-time(Tris Speaker, Rose). If I were playing a video game, I would just push the up button more. Musial had the contact but played in an era where homers were not the phenomenon they are now.
This gave Musial 6134 total bases....second behind Hank Aaron. Think about it, nobody has touched the bases more than Stan Musial save one man. Not Ruth or Williams. Not Mays or Bonds. That my friends is an accomplishment worth remembering.
And then there is the man, the character that Stan Musial brings. It's hard to explain, but the quote that is engraved on his statue at Busch Stadium says it all:
"Here stands baseball's perfect warrior. Here stands baseball's perfect knight."
First, Albert hates being called "El Hombre." He says he has too much respect for Stan the Man to take the moniker given to him.
All the more reason to embrace it.
Albert (God willing) is probably only halfway through his career. And yet it is impossible to not dream of how the numbers will stack up when he's finished. Let's look at those.
First is the obvious 9 seasons with .300 average, 30 homers and 100 RBI's to start a career. Yeah...nobody. Nobody has done it. First. Holy Crap. Albert says he is a contact hitter who happens to hit for power(Much like Musial with all his doubles). For one, I believe him. His average is what sets him apart.
Pujols career average to date is .333. He also currently has 358 career home runs. We know the names with a higher batting average and more career home runs: Ted Williams, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig. Notice anything?
Pujols has the highest average and home run combination of any right handed batter. Period. There are four right handed batters that stick out. Rogers Hornsby with a .358 average (second all time) and 301 homers (he could have hit more). Joe Dimaggio and Jimmy Foxx both hit .325 with 361 and 532 homers respectively. I should also mention Hank Aaron had a .305 average with his 755 homers.
Now, the trick to this stat is that most career batting averages drop significantly at the end of a player's career when they don't quite have the skills they used to (Musial included). But who's to say Pujols won't hit for MORE average before its all said and done. My point is that Pujols already can legimately be in the conversation for best right handed hitter of all time.(since Manny and A-Rod wrote themselves off with their steroids use)
Then there is the man who is Albert Pujols. He is extremely charitable off the field. He is a deeply spiritual and faithful man but is not in your face about it. And he is a fiery competitor. The kind of guy everyone wants on their team because he makes everyone better. He will steal a base when needed, he will lay out on the infield for a ground ball. It is all about the team for Albert.
ESPN has dubbed Albert "The Machine." They are so wrong. It's Albert's heart that seperates him from the rest, both on and off the field. He is no machine to St. Louis. He is a man in every sense of the word. He is "El Hombre."
(This blog is inspired from several conversations with my Dad about the legacy of both Musial and Pujols.)