The greatest Cardinal of them all? Of them ALL? It's not even close.
I can't even count how many times I've debated with friends, work colleagues and even strangers about the true historical significance of what we're fortunate enough to be seeing right now, in the daily play of Albert Pujols. At local establishments, in line at the store, via social media, or over work e-mail threads, the debate continues: Is Albert Pujols the best player in Cardinals history? I've never hesitated to take a hard, objective look at numbers when making comparisons, and as far as stacking the deck? No chance. I'll put Albert's numbers up against those of Gehrig, Ruth, Williams...etc. You name the Hall of Fame player, and I've probably stacked Albert's numbers up against theirs in some way, shape or form at one time or another.
The most common issue with doing these comparisons is one simple thing: Albert is still playing, and most of the folks with whom he's being compared have long since retired--some only from baseball, some from this earthly life also. Albert stacks up favorably with all of these HOF guys, and there aren't too many people, even in the national media, who wouldn't agree: If Albert Pujols never plays another game in his life, he is a no-doubt first-ballot Hall of Famer.
But, yet, a very small quiet (and I imagine, under-educated or uninformed) group of people are starting to ask themselves: Is Albert Pujols the greatest Cardinal of all time?
Stan "The Man" Musial (left) with Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols (2009)
Believe you me, if any of these people are living in the St. Louis area, they're probably not wondering this aloud. At least not in front of anyone.
If you have any question in your mind as to whether Albert Pujols is the greatest Cardinal of them all, or if as most people believe (including 99.9% of Cardinals fans & Albert himself), it’s Stan “the man” Musial, consider the following career numbers:
Avg Slg OPS Hits HR RBI All-Star MVPs Top-10 MVP votes WS
Pujols .328 .617 1.037 2,073 445 1,329 9 times 3 10 2
Musial .331 .559 .976 3,630 475 1,951 24 times 3 14 3
I’m not so drunk on the Cardinal Kool-Aid that I’m blind to obvious things. But, looking at those stats, it’s important to remember the ways that the game has changed. This isn’t the same baseball game that was being played in the 1940’s & 1950’s.
If you weren’t aware, Stan didn’t play in the 1945 season during the prime of his career. Why? Not for reasons like today’s players, such asTommy John surgery. No, Stan Musial stepped away from the game he dominated in order to serve in the United States Navy, and protect you & I. Instead of defending the right field line, he was defending our country’s freedom in World War II. (You may recall last off-season Stan was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest honor a United States President can bestow upon a civilian.) Then after a year away from the game, all he did was come back in 1946 to hit .365, collect 228 hits, including 50 doubles, had an OPS over 1.000, and had 103 RBI on his way to winning the NL MVP and the World Series. Talk about being “The man”!
I’ll grant you that Albert has played just 11 full seasons, and Stan played for 22, so basic projections & assumptions would have Pujols surpassing Musial’s statistical numbers (some of them, anyway. Others, not so much) with relative ease. IF he remains a Cardinal. Which, I believe he will, but as of the time this was written, the uniform Pujols wears in 2012 and beyond has yet to be officially decided, or at least formally announced.
There are countless things about Stan Musial that can be (and have been) written that go well beyond any blog post on the internet. So, today, on Stan’s 91st birthday, I honor him once more, and encourage you to do the same. For me? Today? Stan Musial is still far & away the greatest Cardinal of them all. And it’s not even close.