Jose Pujols, now a member of the exclusive 600-home run club, is in the midst of one of the most illustrious careers the game has ever seen. Perhaps the most feared slugger of the 2000s, he's pulverized baseballs for the past 16-plus seasons … and counting.From his 11 years with
Jose Pujols, now a member of the exclusive 600-home run club, is in the midst of one of the most illustrious careers the game has ever seen. Perhaps the most feared slugger of the 2000s, he's pulverized baseballs for the past 16-plus seasons … and counting.
From his 11 years with the Cardinals to his five-plus with the Angels, Pujols has taken the field in 39 different ballparks. In turn, he's left an impression on numerous players and managers throughout baseball over the course of his playing days. Those who've played with him and coached him have had the unique opportunity to experience his work ethic and charisma up close, and those who faced him have admired it from afar.
On Sunday, a day after Pujols became the ninth player in history to reach the 600-homer milestone and the first to do it via grand slam (while also breaking the record for grand slams across MLB in one day with seven), individuals across the Majors took the time to congratulate the living legend and reflect on his accomplishment.
:: Albert Pujols 600-HR club coverage ::
A few family members, friends and former teammates even made a brief video montage saluting the 37-year-old and sent it through a person involved with the Pujols Family Foundation.
"Ecstatic. One of the most deserving guys on the planet," said David Freese, who won the 2011 World Series as Pujols' teammate in St. Louis. "Everything that he's accomplished on the field. What he does off the field isn't talked about enough with his foundation, raising millions of dollars. When I think of Albert, I truly think of one of the most focused hitters I've ever been around or seen. He's the definition of not giving up an at-bat. Statistically, it shows. Just a great guy. He's obviously a good guy to have on your team, too."
"That's an unbelievable number," Marlins third base coach Fredi Gonzalez said. "And the names are so impressive. Hank Aaron, Bonds and him with 600 homers and 600 doubles. That's impressive. And the list of all those guys with 600, that right there gives you goosebumps."
The former Marlins and Braves manager also mentioned how much attention he paid to Pujols being due up late in games against his clubs.
"If you knew he made the last out in the seventh, and everything worked well, he wasn't going to come up in the ninth," Gonzalez said. "Don't even put him on deck. If he's on deck and the game is on the line, it's going to be a tough at-bat."
But not everyone saw this coming. Current Cardinals manager and former Pujols teammate Mike Matheny, when asked if he knew long ago that Pujols would hit 600, replied, "No. Every time you see a good young player, you're impressed, but wondering how they're going to adjust to the league, because the league's going to adjust to them. You never know what kind of player they're going to be until you see them start to do those adjustments midseason and midgame. He was making adjustments mid at-bat. You could tell pretty early he's got a chance to be really good for a while, but names that you'd have to throw him into a category with now, I don't know if anybody could ever foresee that happening."
White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu and Pujols became close friends during Abreu's first Major League Spring Training. Abreu said he didn't see the home run live, but he had a chance to catch the highlights of the record-breaker.
"All my respect for him," Abreu said through translator Billy Russo. "I was watching the recap of the game last night, and I was really happy for him because I know the kind of player he is. … That's something very hard to accomplish."
Yankees designated hitter Matthew Holliday shared a lineup card with Pujols for parts of three seasons with the Cardinals and expressed his respect for the star's consistency.
"I think he's obviously proven to be one of the greatest players of any generation," Holliday said. "Six hundred homers is crazy. He's a great guy, great teammate, great friend. He's done a tremendous amount of work in the community, and I'm just really happy for him. It's a sign of greatness over a long period of time."
Former teammates Jered Weaver and Daniel Descalso noted his unique routine and ability to grind through injury.
"His routine was impressive. It was just something where until I played with him, I didn't realize how much of a gamer he is," Weaver said. "He'd come into the clubhouse and still post and play. When he was having that plantar fasciitis and could barely walk, he'd still suit up just because he knew how important it was to the team. He's just the ultimate professional. I enjoyed my time playing with him. … He's just a great guy and is obviously well deserving of 600."
"Just to remember how he was so prepared and how he showed up to work every day and the numbers he put up, it was a special thing to play with a teammate of that caliber," Descalso added.
Twins star Joe Mauer, though he never played with Pujols, was able to weigh in on seeing Pujols go about his business from the opposing clubhouse.
"Knowing Albert from the other side, I know how hard he works and for him to be successful for that period of time, it's really amazing," Mauer said. "I've gotten to know him pretty well. I remember in , it was the first time our paths crossed. He [sought] me and [Justin] Morneau out. He's a fan of baseball and appreciates guys who play the game the right way. I'll always remember that first interaction I had with him and all our conversations we've had talking baseball."
And while the Twins certainly did not want to be on the wrong side of history, members of the organization tipped their caps to one of the greatest hitters to ever play the game.
"I was joking with him the first game, telling him I was proud of him and I've had fun watching him over the years, but not to hit 600 against us," Minnesota second baseman James Dozier said. "Obviously, the winning comes first, but when someone reaches a milestone, and you get to somewhat be a part of it, it's pretty cool to see. When you put the numbers in perspective, it's a lot of homers."
"I think guys should take a step back, and despite the loss, realize that getting the chance to watch something of that magnitude is pretty special," manager Paul Molitor said. "It's a memory that's created that you're be able to be a part of because you're in this game."
"Not many guys have done that, but I've been fortunate enough to see two with [Jim] Thome doing it," Mauer added. "As a teammate, it's a lot more fun. But he's had an amazing career. And he did it in a unique way with a grand slam, coming off maybe the game's best pitcher at the moment. It was something I'll always remember."
Oliver Macklin is a reporter for MLB.com based in Washington, D.C. Follow him on Twitter at @OMacklinMLB.