by Michael Riehn
If you should ever leave me,
Though life would still go on believe me,
The world could show nothing to me,
So what good would living do me?
God only knows what I’d be without you…
Brian Wilson’s haunting song runs through my head every time there is discussion of Albert Pujols and free agency. Those two things should never be uttered in the same sentence and makes me cringe every time I hear it. When I was a boy, my fandom was more innocent. I loved Tommy Herr and Vince Coleman because they were Cardinals and they could do no wrong (in my eyes). Tommy Herr played the same position as me when I was in pee wee league, and every time Coleman stole a base, they’d put “InVinceable” on the scoreboard and I would go nuts. When they were traded away, I was devastated, and lost a little bit of my devotion.
As an adult, I’m not prone to unconditional fandom and I don’t invest in sports stars as heroes. I love the Cardinals, but I don’t get attached to players anymore. Albert Pujols is different, his combination of hitting, fielding, leadership, attitude and community relations is once in a lifetime. Like Stan the Man and the Wizard of Oz, he NEEDS to retire a Cardinal, and I believe he is worthy of my adult adoration.
Johnny Mize started his career with the Cardinals and played for them from 1936-1941. During those 6 seasons, he was one of the best players in the game, and one of its brightest stars. Like Pujols, Mize was gifted around the first base bag and nicknamed “The Big Cat” for his smooth fielding. They were also similar hitters. While with the Cardinals, Mize led the league in OPS 3 out of his 6 seasons, Pujols has led the league in OPS twice.
From age 23-28 Mize put up this line for the Cardinals:
Pujols put up this line from 23-28:
OPS is defined as on base percentage plus slugging percentage. OPS+ is an advanced statistic that measures OPS against the league average, and adjusted for ballpark factors. To give you a basic idea of its purpose, it compares players from different eras and different ballparks and puts them on a level playing field. OPS+ over 100 is better than average, less than 100 is below average.
Pujols’ peaks are a bit greater, but he and Mize were among the best hitters in the league from their age 23-28 seasons. Mize was traded to the Giants by legendary General Manager Branch Rickey after the 1941 season for 3 journeymen and $50,000.00. He had a very productive year with his new club before he was drafted into World War II. He spent 1943 through 1945 in the military service and returned to baseball with 3 more great seasons. Mize had the following line in his Hall of Fame career, which spanned 15 years: .312 BA, .397 OBP, .562 SLG, 158 OPS+. (Just think what numbers he would have put up with 3 of his prime years added in from the war!)
Be thankfull for Pujols while he is here. What we are witnessing is greatness, and no matter how the Cardinals do, he’s worth the price of admission. When the time is right, let’s hope that the Cardinals recognize what he means to the team, and sign him to a long term extension. Hopefully, he can wear the birds on the bat for the remainder of his career. God only knows what we’d do without him.
Photo courtesy of the Baseball Hall of Fame