While Albert Pujols is no longer the force of nature he once was with the Cardinals, his Angels tenure has been filled with milestones.
The future Hall of Famer crushed his 500th career homer for the Halos back in April 2014, and then he became the ninth player to reach the 600-homer mark three years later. Last May, he became the 32nd member of the 3,000-hit club, and he is on the cusp of reaching a benchmark that is more exclusive than any of the above: Assuming Pujols stays healthy, he will soon become just the third (or fifth) player to reach the 2,000-RBI plateau.
We know what you are thinking: "Third or fifth?" Allow us to explain.
Here’s what’s universally recognized: Pujols entered 2019 with a career total of 1,982 RBIs, and he has added 17 so far this season, the most recent coming on a solo home run against the Astros on Saturday.
That puts him one shy of 2,000, an incredibly difficult total to reach, and one that has eluded even the majority of inner-circle Hall of Fame hitters. According to the Elias Sports Bureau -- the official statistician of Major League Baseball -- there are just two members of the 2,000-RBI club, and Pujols would be the third.
All-time RBI leaders, per the Elias Sports Bureau
- Hank Aaron: 2,297
- Alex Rodriguez: 2,086
3) Albert Pujols: 1,999
4) Barry Bonds: 1,996
5) Lou Gehrig: 1,994
But if one logs on to Baseball-Reference and scrolls over to its career leaders section, here’s where it would appear Pujols stands on the RBI ledger:
MLB’s all-time RBI leaders, per Baseball-Reference
- Hank Aaron: 2,297
- Babe Ruth: 2,214
- Alex Rodriguez: 2,086
- Cap Anson: 2,075
5) Albert Pujols: 1,999
6) Barry Bonds: 1,996
7) Lou Gehrig: 1,995
Either way you slice it, Pujols stands among the all-time greats. But in the eyes of the Elias Sports Bureau, Major League Baseball’s official record keeper, there are even fewer names between Pujols and Aaron on the all-time list, not to mention two fewer members of the 2,000-RBI club.
The difference between the two lists mostly comes down to this: RBIs did not become an official statistic until 1920, so Elias does not count RBIs accrued before that date. That designation wipes out the entire career of Anson, who retired from National League ball in 1897, and knocks out more than 200 RBIs from Ruth’s Red Sox tenure from 1914-19. Baseball-Reference, however, retroactively added RBIs prior to 1920, based largely on research originally spearheaded by Pete Palmer for the Total Baseball encyclopedia series.
(You may also notice that Elias has Gehrig with one fewer RBI than you'll see listed on Baseball-Reference. Elias’ official RBI total for Gehrig has changed several times, even within the four years since Rodriguez passed him on the all-time list. Due to the uncertain nature of record keeping in the early part of the 20th century, some discrepancies exist between the stats provided today by different historical data providers.)
Sooner than later, by Elias' definition, Pujols should join Aaron and Rodriguez as just the third member of the 2,000-RBI club -- one of baseball’s most exclusive groups for any offensive statistic. For context: Three hitters have clubbed 700 homers, and Pujols (sitting on 636) still has an outside shot. The 4,000-hit club also has just two members in Pete Rose and Ty Cobb, along with Ichiro Suzuki if you count his hits from Nippon Professional Baseball.
All of this is to say that while RBIs carry far less weight in today’s analytic climate, the exclusivity of Pujols’ 2,000th run driven in is worth a proper celebration. It took 52 years from the RBI’s official beginnings, by Elias’ definition, for Aaron to be the first to cross the 2,000 threshold, and another 43 years for Rodriguez to join him. Beyond Pujols, it’s not clear who -- if anyone -- will reach 2,000 RBIs again. Miguel Cabrera is the next closest at 1,645, but he spent most of last season on the injured list and is off to a slow start in 2019. The next six active players are all at least 34 years old, and the top active player below 30, the 29-year-old Giancarlo Stanton, is sitting at 772. Pujols had already tallied 1,112 RBIs by the end of his age-29 season.
Pujols has adamantly defended the value of driving in runs, and while some may debate the RBI's true value, No. 2,000 for "Prince Albert" will be worth acknowledging. We might not see it again.