August 9, 2009
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image002by Brad Eastland, The Sports Philosopher

    I was having dinner in Pasadena the other night with my girlfriend Roxanne (she likes seeing her name in the column), and a very strange thing happened.   At least I thought it was strange.

      I forget how his name came up, but for some reason I mentioned Albert Pujols, who of course is the 1st baseman for the St. Louis Cardinals.   Rox looked at me kind of strange and queried, “Who’s that?”   I smiled, wearily, grimly resisting the urge to mock her, and remembering that she is not much of a baseball fan I replied, simply and professorily, that he was by far the best player playing baseball today.   Which of course he is.   

      She looked at me like I was from Mars.

      “If he’s the best player in baseball, how come I’ve never heard of him?” she asked.   Good question, I said wryly to myself.   But what I said to her was, “I can’t help it that you’ve never heard of the best player in the game, a guy who’s on his way to the Hall of Fame.   Everyone else in this stupid restaurant has heard of him, I guarantee you.”   I was pretty sure I was right about this.   After all, he is Albert Pujols, and I am the Sports Philosopher….

image0011      “Bet’cha a hundred bucks that no one in here has heard of this Pujols guy,” Rox kept on.   I told her that I could not in good conscience take her money, but that she was free to go around and ask people who he was, if she wanted to.   At that moment a waiter walked by and she grabbed him, and asked him if he knew who Albert Pujols was.   “No, I am sorry,” he said politely.   Roxanne smiled smugly.   “Where are you from?” I asked him.   “Peru,” he replied.   I smiled smugly back at her.

      Determined to prove her point, Roxanne then stood up, took a deep breath, and proceeded to walk right up to the next table.   She leaned between the two men having dinner, said a few words, smiled, and then came back to our table.   “They’ve never heard of him,” she said.

      Then a busboy walked by.   “Who is Albert Pujols?” my girlfriend demanded.   “I do not know, ma’am, I am sorry,” he replied politely.   I felt a little better when he told us he was just over here from El Salvador, until I remembered that El Salvador is just a frogman’s swim away from Pujols’ native Dominican Republic.   Strange….

      Before I could fixate on how one of Pujols’ fellow Caribbean-ers could not know who this icon was, Roxanne again jumped up from her chair and bounded over to another table.   Once again it was a table for two, and again they were both men.   But these two guys were clearly regular ol’ Americans I said confidently to myself, I could tell, surely they would be able to tell her Pujols’ batting average, number of homers, hat size, Astrological sign, and favorite breakfast cereal.   She soon returned.   “Never heard of him,” she crowed.  

      Let’s take a short break from our story to interject a few lines from Albert Pujols’ resume.   I want to make sure everyone out there is acutely aware of just how good this guy is.   This is how good: He has played Major League Baseball for nine years, and is the only player in baseball history who has hit at least 30 home runs in each of his first nine seasons.   He is one of only two players to ever drive in 100 runs in each of his first nine seasons.   He has never had a year where he hit below .314, and has a lifetime batting average of around .333, give or take.   And this season, in his ten at-bats with the bases loaded (when the pitcher has no place to put him, and therefore must throw him a strike or two), he is 8-for-10 with five home runs and 27 runs driven in.   Oh, and those five Grand Slams are a National League record.   And finally, even his nickname let’s you know where he stands in relation to the other players; “El Hombre”.    

      In other words, he’s pretty good. 

      So how come nobody has ever heard of him???

      All in all Roxanne asked eight random, unsuspecting late-night diners who Albert Pujols was, most of them Americans, and not one of them could identify him.   It was truly depressing.   It made me question everything I have ever believed about the grand-old game, our National Pastime, that most American of all sports, a quintessential component of our history and pop culture and who we are as a people.   More depressing than that, I think that Roxanne may have begun to question how much I know about sports in this country.   I know for sure she wished I’d bet her that hundred bucks. (Never mind that I spent more than that on dinner that night….)    

      Look at it this way.   Back in the 20s practically every non-brain-dead American could tell you that Babe Ruth was the game’s best player.   In the 30s Joe DiMaggio was the best player, and everybody knew it, and everybody knew who he was.   Ted Williams in the 40s, Willie Mays in the 50s, Hank Aaron in the 60s, they were the best, eight out of eight guys in a restaurant would never have not known who they were.   And while there was no clear-cut “dominant best player” in the 70s or 80s, for the last fifteen years leading up to Pujols’ recent maturation into an all-time great, just about every red-blooded American male, and a good percentage of our females, could tell you that Barry Bonds ruled the game.   But for some reason, to mainstream restaurant-frequenting America, Albert Pujols might just as well be the name of the most recent Nobel Prize winner for achievement in Chemistry.

      Is it because he’s not white?   Well….Mays, Aaron, and Bonds are black, so that’s probably not it.   Can it be because he’s not a native-son American?   That’s more likely.   Pujols is the first-ever “best player of his era” not born in the United States.   We are, after all, an historically provincial and jingoistic nation.   Maybe a guy with a Latin name from an obscure Caribbean country is just not considered “one of us”.   Which would be a shame.   For example, one of our greatest founding fathers, Alexander Hamilton, was born in the West Indies, and he spent his entire public life trying to live it down.   Hamilton always felt like—and was treated like—an outsider.

      Do you suppose Joe Torre knows who Albert Pujols is?

      Joe Torre, of course, is the manager of our own Los Angeles Dodgers.   The only reason I ask is that in a game against the Cardinals about two weeks ago, Pujols came up I the 9th or 10th inning with the game on the line, score tied, two men on, a base open….and Torre pitched to him.   I was stunned.   Doesn’t matter what happened, doesn’t matter if he delivered or made an out, it was a silly thing to do.   And as a baseball fan I assure you, there have been many other occasions this year when managers have pitched to Pujols with the game on the line and paid for it.  

      It all proves that the word is not totally out on Pujols yet.   In Bonds’ heyday, they used to walk him with a base open and the game on the line every time!   It wasn’t even an issue that could be questioned or debated; they knew he was just too good to mess around with.   One manager once waxed whimsically that the only hitter on deck who could persuade him to pitch to Barry Bonds with the game on the line was Bonds himself.   The Dodgers once had Eric Gagne—the best reliever in the game—walk Bonds with no one on base, so worried were they that he might hit a home run in that particular at-bat.   One manager even walked Bonds once with the bases loaded.   But with a base open, there was never any discussion.   He was always given a free pass.   It was called the Bonds treatment.  

      Pujols is almost as good as Bonds was.   He deserves the Bonds treatment.   More importantly, he deserves every one of you knowing exactly who he is.

      Oh, yeah: in that at-bat a couple of weeks ago with the game on the line and with a base open, Pujols doubled over the center fielder’s head and the Cardinals won.   It was like Torre had never even heard of “El Hombre”.   Funny….none of those eight guys in that restaurant that Roxanne asked who Albert Pujols was looked a bit like Joe Torre….

The Sports Philosopher

Brad Eastland is an author, historian, film buff, and sports nut, in no particular order.   Brad’s other recent columns for LaVerneOnline can be found in Sports under ‘The Sports Philosopher’ and also in Viewpoint under ‘Brad Eastland’s View’.    Brad has also written four novels and over 20 short-stories.    Samples of Brad’s fiction work can be discovered within the links below :



  1. The SPORTS PHILOSOPHER says: “The world of Sport is weird, the world itself is weird, you’re weird, I’m weird….and that’s entertainment!” By Brad Eastland

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