I have to admit, I'm not much of a Major League Baseball fan anymore. I guess all the work stoppages and acrimony between the players and owners has gotten to me.
Sure, I used to enjoy playing Little League and Babe Ruth ball, emulating my favorite players from Cincinnati's Big Red Machine or the Oakland Athletics of Reggie Jackson, Vida Blue and Sal Bando (my personal favorite) every time I stepped onto the diamond.
And more recently, like everyone else, I was caught up in the Big Mac/Sammy Sosa home run derby a few seasons ago, although I actually dislike all of this new era of baseball offense, what with steroids, smaller parks and juiced balls. And I kind of tuned out Barry Bond's 73-home run year two seasons past.
Having said all that, one player has certainly managed to capture my attention this year (no, not Sammy and his "batting practice" bat).
Albert Pujols, the 23-year-old third year outfielder for the St. Louis Cardinals, is threatening to dominate MLB like no player before him has.
One glance at his eye-popping numbers so far this year makes it little wonder that Cardinal skipper Tony LaRussa calls Pujols "the best player I've ever managed."
Pujols currently leads the major leagues with a .394 batting average, leads the majors with 71 runs scored, leads the National League with 68 RBIs, is tied for the major league lead in hits with 12, leads the majors with 29 doubles, and is sixth in Major League Baseball with 21 home runs.
Wow. Heady stuff indeed.
It's not uncommon for a young player (Pujols played his college ball at a community college in Kansas City) to have a good first year offensively before major league pitching forces him to either adjust or come back to earth.
But consider Pujols' second year (last season) in the big leagues.
After his first season with the Cardinals earned him Rookie of the Year honors, major league pitchers caught up with Pujols the first half of last season, holding him to a .280 average.
No problem; Pujols made some adjustments at the plate and bounced back with a .335 average, and a league leading 61 RBIs after the All-Star break.
From a historical perspective, Pujols' first two years with a .321 average, 71 homers, and 257 RBIs ranks him third all time behind a pair of Hall of Famers.
Only Ted Williams (.336, 54, 258) and Joe DiMaggio (.335, 75, 292) had more productive debuts their first two seasons.
Pujols is the only player to hit .300 with 30 home runs, 100 RBIs and 100 runs scored in his first two big-league years.
So while many tout the Rangers' Alex Rodriguez as the games' finest player, I'll take Pujols, although Rodriguez does get the nod from a defensive standpoint.
What does all this mean?
st means that even though I rarely watch a full MLB game and the Cardinals are not one of my favorite teams (they even rank number two on my list of favored baseball teams in the state of Missouri), I do plan on watching number five for the Cardinals continue to mature and see if it leads him to Cooperstown.