ANAHEIM -- This tells everyone what they need to know about Jose Pujols: Nearing midnight and long after he had established another piece of Major League history by becoming the ninth slugger to smack his 600th homer on Saturday at Angel Stadium, Pujols had some unfinished business.For 20 minutes beyond a
ANAHEIM -- This tells everyone what they need to know about Jose Pujols: Nearing midnight and long after he had established another piece of Major League history by becoming the ninth slugger to smack his 600th homer on Saturday at Angel Stadium, Pujols had some unfinished business.
For 20 minutes beyond a late-night news conference, Pujols signed baseballs for Scott Steffel and his family. Steffel is the 23-year-old graphic artist from nearby Costa Mesa, Calif., who grabbed the first grand slam to account for the coveted 600 milestone with his baseball glove as he tumbled over rows of seats in the left-field corner.
There would be no auction. No sale to the highest bidder on eBay. The young man had been out there in the same spot with his dad and brother for the entire homestand waiting for Pujols to hit the big homer.
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"I just wanted him to have the ball," said Steffel, who presented it to Pujols on the field after the game, a 7-2 win over the Twins, and asked for nothing in return.
Pujols was more than gracious.
"He can have anything he wants," Pujols said. "Maybe take him to batting practice, show him the clubhouse. It's up to the Angels."
"We have it taken care of," said Tim Mead, the club's longtime vice president of communications.
The historic baseball in exchange for some signed baseballs. Fair deal. That's gratitude for you on both sides of the plate. From fan to player and player back to fan.
The big question is how far Pujols will be able to take this? Beyond this season, he has four years to go on his 10-year, $240 million contract. He's 37. His feet are battered and beaten from plantar fasciitis, making him a designated hitter for the remainder of his career.
Pujols has trouble running, but he still can rake with power. Is 700 inconceivable? Is the all-time leader, Barry Bonds at 762, unthinkable? Bonds had just turned 43 when he broke Hank Aaron's record of 755 on Aug. 8, 2007, nearly 10 years ago. In 2021, Pujols will be 41.
"That would be crazy, unbelievable," said Michael Trout, who has been sidelined after surgery to repair a ligament in his left thumb. "Do I think he can do it? Oh, yeah. For sure. I wouldn't put anything past Albert. He comes in, plays hard. He's a competitor. He's a great person off the field. He would do anything for you.
"It's pretty incredible. Each night he gets a hit or an RBI, he's passing somebody. The other day, he just passed Babe Ruth in hits. It's pretty remarkable, his career so far. There's a lot of baseball left, obviously."
Pujols has a slew of milestones directly ahead of him. Perhaps the most significant is 3,000 hits. He's 124 away, so later this season, he could conceivably become the 31st player to reach that milestone. Aaron, Alexander Rodriguez and Willie Mays are the only three players with at least 600 homers and 3,000 hits.
On the homer list, Sammy Sosa at 609, Jim Thome at 612 and Ken Griffey Jr. at 630 are all within reach this season. Mays at 660 is probable in 2018. A-Rod at 696, Babe Ruth at 714, then Aaron and Bonds are all possible, but they will be buffeted by the winds of time and the fates of injury.
A-Rod came into last season needing only 13 more homers to reach 700. When he hit a cluster of three in four games at the end of April and early May at Texas and Boston, it seemed like that the lofty mark was a certainty. He then injured his right hamstring running out a grounder in Baltimore on May 3 and missed three weeks.
Rodriguez never got it back. When the Yanks released him on Aug. 13, he had nine in 2016 and had fallen four short.
Pujols isn't slowing down and his numbers during the first 16 years of his career appear to sustain a push toward more greatness. When calculated on the basis of 162 games, Pujols has averaged 188 hits, 39 home runs and 122 RBIs a season.
Though his on-base numbers and OPS have slipped considerably since his best years for the Cardinals, he still amassed 31 homers and 119 RBIs last season, although his slash line of .249/.299/.410 and OPS of .708 were far off his best.
Pujols said he's not concerned with the personal marks ahead of him, just adding to his collection of rings that includes 2006 and '11 World Series wins in St. Louis.
"Five hundred, 600, I don't think about numbers," Pujols said. "We'll see how far I can get when I'm done playing. I'm being honest. I don't think about that. I come here every day, thinking about what I can do to help this ballclub win. This game is already hard enough. If you bring stuff in from outside and start thinking about the guys you have to chase, it makes it even tougher.
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"For me I try to block all those distractions. I know that if I stay healthy I'm going to be passing some guys, which, don't get me wrong, is an honor and a privilege."
Steffel, who has been to hundreds of Angels games, says he will continue to sit in the stands, glove on his hand, rooting Albert on, hoping to witness another milestone. He's fully vested now.
Like Steffel -- and hordes of other baseball fans -- we'll all be watching.
Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter.