Willie Mays was the best player of his generation. In 2009, President Obama invited Mays aboard the presidential plane.
“Very rarely when I’m on Air Force One am I the second most important guy on there,” Obama said.
The plane landed in St. Louis, where the two men headed to the All-Star Game. In the National League clubhouse, Obama first greeted Albert Pujols, the best player of his generation.
When the All-Stars took the field, Obama threw the ceremonial first pitch. Pujols caught it.
With his next home run, Pujols will tie Mays for fifth place on the all-time list, at 660. Let the kids play, sure, but let us take a moment to reflect on how dominant Pujols was back in his day.
He was the Mike Trout of his era.
Trout has won three most valuable player awards in six years; Pujols won three in five. Trout led his league in wins above replacement in four out of five years; Pujols did it five consecutive years. He was 29 the last time he did it.
Trout turned 29 on Friday, with 289 home runs. On the day Pujols turned 29, he had 319.
Trout has another decade to go, of course. Pujols, 40, has one more season on his Angels contract, and then perhaps the Cardinals consider a homecoming, a farewell season as a designated hitter. If not, the coronavirus pandemic — and this truncated season that resulted — could cost him his chance to join Barry Bonds, Hank Aaron and Babe Ruth as the only players with 700 home runs.
“I don’t think it’s disappointing at all,” Pujols said on a recent videoconference. “I wouldn’t use that word. It was worldwide, this pandemic. It wasn’t just in the United States.
“To say disappointing is being selfish. That’s the last thing I want to be.”
Citius, Altius, Fortius
With 18 players infected by the coronavirus, the Miami Marlins welcomed 18 replacements Tuesday, a group that included a Moran (Brian), a Morin (Mike), a left-handed pitcher named Josh Smith and a right-handed pitcher named Josh Smith.
The most compelling story belonged to infielder Eddy Alvarez, who won a silver medal as a Team USA speed skater in the 2014 Sochi Olympics. He is believed to be the first man to medal in the Winter Olympics and play in the major leagues.
His skating commitment meant he did not start his professional baseball career until 24, an age at which many minor leaguers already have washed out. He shuttled between double-A and triple-A for four seasons before making his major league debut this week at 30, for his hometown Marlins.
“Excuse my lack of terms,” he said on a videoconference Thursday, “but it’s the truth behind the system, as much crap as it is. Age is a huge obstacle for a lot of guys in this game.”
He said he still cannot come up with a useful answer for the question he hears most often: What did he learn in skating that translated to baseball?
“The only similarity I can come up with,” he said, “is we go left.”
New ballparks, new cities?
The A’s have yet to secure approval from either the city or the Port of Oakland. The Tampa Bay Rays could not get a publicly funded ballpark in the Tampa Bay area, so they now somehow believe they can split the season between Tampa Bay and Montreal by getting two ballparks built, one in each locale.
Commissioner Rob Manfred has preached patience, saying for years the league would not consider expansion until the stadium situations were resolved in Oakland and Tampa Bay. That patience could be running short, because a new television contract with ESPN soon could follow the ones already negotiated with Fox and Turner.
The ESPN deal expires next year. If the 30 owners can share the spoils of a new deal, they can turn their attention to expansion. With one industry insider projecting expansion fees at $1.6 billion per team, two new teams could mean more than $100 million for each of the current owners, which would go a long way toward easing the losses of this pandemic-shortened season. Manfred has said 32 teams would make for more logical scheduling.
If the A’s and Rays cannot get a ballpark in their home markets, they could move — and the 30 owners could split even more in relocation fees. Montreal, Nashville, Charlotte, Portland, San Antonio, Austin, Las Vegas, Mexico City and Monterrey, Mexico, could be candidate cities for expansion or relocation.
And a Lakers note …
The Indians’ response: “How many titles has Cincinnati’s NBA team won?”
As comebacks go, that was pretty good, but the scoreboard speaks loudest of all. After the Indians won the last three games of the series, the Indians could not resist: “Ahh, Cincinnati. So nice, we beat them thrice.”
All-time home run leaders
Name, HR, AB per HR
Barry Bonds, 762, 12.9
Hank Aaron, 755, 16.4
Babe Ruth, 714, 11.8
Alex Rodriguez, 696, 17.5
Willie Mays, 660, 18.9
Albert Pujols, 659, 18.6
Ken Griffey Jr., 630, 15.6
Jim Thome, 612, 13.8
Sammy Sosa, 609, 14.5
Frank Robinson, 586, 17.1