Albert Pujols home run #500: Doing it backwards

Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Albert Pujols reaches a career milestone, but who does it have meaning to, and who should it have meaning to?

On Tuesday night, Albert Pujols hit his 499th and 500th home run. This is a joyous moment. Despite his diminished performance as a Los Angeles Angel, the veteran first baseman is one of the great right-handed first basemen of all time, and now he has achieved one of those traditional baseball milestones that signify that status. He even did it in style, becoming the first hitter to reach the 500 mark with a two-homer game.

And yet, this is also an ambiguous moment. Pujols did all his best work with the St. Louis Cardinals, and the Angels signing him to a 10-year, $240 million contract was widely first-guessed as a mistake. Whatever he does this season, and he has looked like a new man since missing almost half of last season with a tear of the plantar fascia in his left foot, the contract still has an eternity to run and almost certainly will end badly. In New York, some fans like to debate which players are "True Yankees." Derek Jeter is, Alex Rodriguez isn't, 2009 championship or not. As arbitrary and childish as the distinction sounds, what they're really trying to say is, "This is a player that I allow myself to be emotionally invested in and this one" -- for whatever reason -- "is not."

Everything you know is wrong

Does that discussion take place around the Angels? And if so, how do you define what a "True Angel" is? Again, there are no rules for what is a wholly amorphous, tribal-throwback of an idea, but I imagine that a player earns his Truthfulness (Trueness? Truism? Truthiness? No, that meant something else.) through some combination of long service, great accomplishments with the club, both on an individual and team level, and a winning personality (this is where A-Rod's candidacy started to go off the rails, even before Biogenesis). I bet it doesn't hurt to have been a homegrown player either -- nothing like watching a kid build his Hall of Fame case from the ground up.

If any of that is accurate, those True Angel conversations must be very brief. An expansion team that has a far longer history of importing veterans than growing and retaining young stars -- Mike Trout is one of a rare handful. Sure, the team's career home-run, hit, and stolen-base lists are led by homegrown Angels (Tim Salmon, Garret Anderson, and Chone Figgins, the last of whom was drafted by the Rockies but came to the majors with the Angels), but below them the lists are dotted by players who came in from the outside. Some (though this is obvious by virtue of their inclusion on the team's lists) were very successful and helped the team to more than one postseason appearance. Still, how attached can you really get to a carpetbagger? Consider the team's career home run list:

Rk

Player

HR

Age In

G

Orig. Org.

1

Tim Salmon

299

23

1672

Angels

2

Garret Anderson

272

22

2013

Angels

3

Brian Downing

222

27

1661

White Sox

4

Troy Glaus

182

21

827

Angels

5

Vladimir Guerrero

173

29

846

Expos

6

Chili Davis

156

28

950

Giants

7

Bobby Grich

154

28

1222

Orioles

8

Don Baylor

141

28

824

Orioles

9

Doug DeCinces

130

31

787

Orioles

10

Reggie Jackson

123

36

687

A's


I realize Doug Decinces was an MVP candidate in 1982 and played on two postseason teams in Anaheim, but how invested can you get in six years and 787 games? Who has more joy in Pujols hitting his 500th home run? (A) The disgruntled Cardinals fan, annoyed with either the organization or the player for leaving? (B) The Angels fan who has hardly gotten to know the guy but does have the dread of the coming years hanging over him like gigantic grey bewhiskered spider of aging, or (C) There is no correct answer; both are alike in their relative indifference?

The other Pujols problem is that, regardless of whether you're one of those credulous types (as credulous as some pill-popping, buttocks-jabbing ballplayers) that puts all the credit and/or blame on the wholesale revision of the record book over the last decade-plus, there is no arguing that as of Opening Day 1996 we had two 700-home-run guys, one 600-home-run guy, and 11 500-home-run guys. Now we have three 700s, five 600s, and 17 500s. Like it or not, by means fair or foul, the home run list has been debauched. Maybe home-run production has begun to return to historical norms, but for now and for a long time to come, that 500 has been devalued as a special event.

Here, then, is the hopeful part, the part that makes Pujols' 500th so optimistic, exciting, and, frankly, weird. He can still be a True Angel, he can still be a beloved part of the franchise's tapestry. Just because there are reasons to be pessimistic about his contract doesn't mean that it will turn out that way. That means he can still do the things he was signed to do -- hit more home runs to go on top of the 500, so that an ever-greater percentage of them are Angels home runs, not Cardinals home runs. He can pile up Angels hits, Angels RBI, and Angels championships. Tonight he reached the career accomplishment. Now he just has to have the career -- the Angels career.

Sure, it's all backwards, and in many ways it's quite unlikely. But who says everything has to happen the way we're used to? There have always been whispers about Pujols' age, and maybe in a certain sense they're correct -- he's the Benjamin Button of baseball, the player going backwards. So, congratulations on No. 500, Albert Pujols. You're a certified great. Now get to work proving it to the fans who cheer for you now. Be a True Angel -- and, as long as we're on the subject, just be true. After all the inflation (again, naturally or artificially flavored), the rest of us need that even more than the Angels need to find another (first?) franchise player.

More from SBNation.com

X
Log In Sign Up

forgot?
Log In Sign Up

Forgot password?

We'll email you a reset link.

If you signed up using a 3rd party account like Facebook or Twitter, please login with it instead.

Forgot password?

Try another email?

Almost done,

By becoming a registered user, you are also agreeing to our Terms and confirming that you have read our Privacy Policy.

Join SBNation.com

You must be a member of SBNation.com to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at SBNation.com. You should read them.

Join SBNation.com

You must be a member of SBNation.com to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at SBNation.com. You should read them.

Spinner.vc97ec6e

Authenticating

Great!

Choose an available username to complete sign up.

In order to provide our users with a better overall experience, we ask for more information from Facebook when using it to login so that we can learn more about our audience and provide you with the best possible experience. We do not store specific user data and the sharing of it is not required to login with Facebook.