Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson struck out more than any player in baseball history. The great Rickey Henderson was caught stealing more than any other player. All-time hit leader Pete Rose by far made the most outs, and he is followed by Hall of Famers Hank Aaron, Carl Yastrzemski, Cal
Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson struck out more than any player in baseball history. The great Rickey Henderson was caught stealing more than any other player. All-time hit leader Pete Rose by far made the most outs, and he is followed by Hall of Famers Hank Aaron, Carl Yastrzemski, Cal Ripken and Eddie Murray. The point is that baseball is, as they say, a game of failure. The greatest players are the ones who inevitably fail the most.
"People tell me all the time, 'God, you must have been really good, you got 3,000 hits [3,154, to be exact]," George Brett said. "No. I made 7,000 outs [7,673, to be exact]. That's what I always tell them. I made 7,000 outs. But I was good enough to last long enough to make 7,000 outs. And that is the whole key."
That is the whole key and that is why, as weird as it sounds, we should stop during our series of seeing stuff that we will never see again and, yes, appreciate Jose Pujols' double-play record.
• Nolan Ryan's two unbreakable records
Pujols, assuming he stays healthy, will put that double-play record in a stratosphere that no one will ever reach. He already has the record, having grounded into 362 double plays; he passed second-place Cal Ripken last year. If Pujols maintains his pace, he is likely to push his total 100 or more double plays above anyone else.
There was a time, not long ago, when Pujols was on pace to wreck the record books, basically take it all for himself. Through his first 10 seasons, the worst -- repeat, the worst -- he had hit was .312. The fewest home runs he had hit was 32. Pujols had driven in 100 runs every year, and he had scored 100 runs every year but one (in 2007, he only scored 99).
Consider where Pujols stood after his age-31 season relative to these greats at the same age:
• He had 60 more doubles than eventual doubles record holder Tris Speaker.
• He had 120 more homers than eventual home run champion Barry Bonds.
• He had scored one more run than eventual runs leader Henderson.
• He had 24 more RBIs than eventual RBI king Aaron.
There simply had never been a player quite like Pujols. The closest for consistency was Aaron. There was some Jimmie Foxx in Pujols' game. Many have compared the younger Pujols to the younger Frank Thomas, a good comparison for their hitting, but Pujols was so much better as a baserunner and a fielder, as you see by their Wins Above Replacement (WAR) through age 31:
Pujols: 86.4 WAR
Thomas: 52.7 WAR
It is so easy to forget based on Pujols' recent years just how sensational he was. It seems impossible, but Pujols has been with the Angels for six seasons now, and his .262/.319/.459 slash line has dampened his career numbers considerably. When he left St. Louis, he was hitting .328. That's now .305. Pujols' career slugging percentage is down 50 points. This great player who led the league in runs five times has not scored even 90 runs in any of his seasons with the Halos.
What's more, as young fans grow interested in the game they see only this version of Pujols, see only the proud man who keeps overcoming injuries, digging in and, now and then, hitting mistakes out of the park. The lingering hope is that Pujols, like Thomas, will have at least one more renaissance season in his late 30s and can show the kids what he was like when he was the very best player in baseball, one of the best any of us had ever seen.
The double-play record is an artifact left over from Pujols' heyday. You have to be good to hit into that many double plays. Hey, the all-time list of double-play leaders is an all-time list of great baseball players:
1. Pujols, 362
- Ripken, 350
- Ivan Rodriguez, 337
- Aaron, 328
- Yastrzemski, 323
All of them are first-ballot Hall of Famers. And this, to double-negative you, is not unconnected. All of those players hit the ball hard for a long time. That's how double plays happen. And if you hit in the middle of the order like these guys do, you tend to come up to the plate with men on first base a lot. However, guys who strike out a lot are not on this list; new Hall of Famer Jim Thome hit into only 165 double plays, less than half of Pujols. But Thome also struck out more than twice as often as Pujols.
Well, Pujols has walked 100 times more than he has struck out. You want a crazy stat? I mean a crazy, insane, beyond belief stat? You might know that among active players with more than 1,000 plate appearances, Pujols is the only one to have walked more than he has struck out. That statistic has been making the rounds.
But what if you reduced it to 500 plate appearances? Only Pujols.
What about 250 plate appearances? Still only Pujols.
You have to reduce the minimum down to 100 plate appearances to find another active player who has walked more than he has struck out. That player is Minnesota's Zack Granite, who got 107 plate appearances last season. He walked 12 times. He struck out 9.
But you can keep going -- 90 plate appearances, 80, 70, 60, 50, 40, 30, 20 -- and it's still only Pujols and Granite. Finally if you reduce it to 10 plate appearances, you find Cardinals second baseman Breyvic Valera, who got 11 plate appearances in 2017. He walked once. He did not strike out. Which goes to show you that Pujols is really a man out of time. He has never struck out 100 times in a season. Pujols' seven seasons of 40-plus homers and fewer than 100 strikeouts is by far the most for any player the past 50 years -- it is one more than Willie Mays and one less than Aaron. And the natural consequence for a great hitter putting the ball in play with some force is the double play. Pujols has led the league in double plays four times, including last year. That doesn't diminish his greatness. It helps define it.
With strikeouts increasing every year, it seems unlikely that anyone will catch Pujols' record. Jose Cabrera, another extraordinary hitter, is second on the active list with 294 -- 68 behind Pujols -- and so he might have a chance if Pujols fades quickly and Cabrera can stay healthy.
But assuming Pujols pushes the total past 400, into the 425-450 range, it will probably stand for decades, an odd but fitting tribute to a great player who year after year after year hit the ball hard … and sometimes right at a fielder.
Joe Posnanski is a columnist for MLB.com.