The 2017 baseball season is finally underway. Is there a better harbinger of spring than the crack of the bat – particularly in a game that counts.
And even as we watch the games of today, we’re always weighing the players against those who came before them. Baseball adores its history; whether anecdotally or statistically, the game of now is always set against the game of yesterday. And there’s a thrill in watching players whose body of work places them in the uppermost echelon, players who have earned a spot next to the immortals of the game.
Texas Rangers third baseman Adrian Beltre and Los Angeles Angels first baseman Albert Pujols are both looking to cross some pretty significant statistical thresholds for their careers. Granted, there’s little argument that both men have already cemented their places among the best of the best, but each of them is poised to reach a new tier in baseball’s historical record.
Let’s start with Beltre. While there was some question with regards to his Hall of Fame worthiness a while back, Beltre has spent the past few years building what has become an open-and-shut case for Cooperstown; he has been one of the best all-around players in the game this entire decade.
Beltre is poised to become just the 31st player in MLB history with 3,000 hits. He’s just 58 hits away; assuming he’s healthy and on his usual pace, he’ll reach that milestone in late May or early June. But he’s got a few other big numbers approaching – with just nine more doubles, he’ll become the 17th player with 600 for his career. In addition, he’s five home runs short of 450 and within shouting distance of both 1,500 runs and 1,600 RBI; a healthy Beltre will have surpassed all those marks by season’s end.
Those are Hall of Fame numbers. Throw in his defensive prowess (five Gold Gloves) and you’re looking at someone who has a legitimate case as the greatest third baseman of all time.
Of course, Albert Pujols is no slouch either. Even with nagging health problems sapping his production over the past few years, he has remained a solid offensive force. If he continues at the rate he has been going, he’s going to wind up keeping some very select company.
We’ll start with the big one. Pujols is sitting at 591 home runs; with nine more, he’ll become only the ninth player in MLB history to join the 600 Homer club. He’ll almost certainly pass Sammy Sosa (609) and Jim Thome (612) if he stays on the field; a really good season would push him past Ken Griffey Jr. (630) for sixth all time. He’s 83 RBI away from 1,900; 101 for the season lands him in the all-time top 10. In addition, he’s climbing the runs list - 30 away from 1,700 – and sits at 2,825 hits, leaving 3,000 likely just ever so slightly out of reach.
One could argue that Pujols was a Hall of Famer before he even left St. Louis, but at only 36, we might have a few more years where he climbs ever higher towards an ever-smaller group of players that could reasonably be considered his peers with the bat.
In a game so steeped in history, it’s nice to bear witness to that history being made. Beltre and Pujols will go down as some of baseball’s best. Stay tuned in 2017 to see just how far they’ll go.