Albert Pujols Hits His 700th Career Home Run, Joining Barry Bonds, Henry Aaron and Babe Ruth

From a Wall Street Journal story by Tim Brown headlined “Albert Pujols Hits His 700th Career Home Run”:

Albert Pujols hit the 700th home run of his career Friday night, becoming the fourth player in major league history—and the first from the Dominican Republic—to reach that mark, joining Barry Bonds, Henry Aaron and Babe Ruth.

In the fourth inning, with many at Dodger Stadium standing, a sea of blue dotted with St. Louis Cardinals red, Pujols homered into the left field bleachers against Dodgers reliever Phil Bickford. He spread his arms wide as he rounded first base, and as the fans stood and cheered the accomplishment as though he were one of their own. Pujols played five months for the Dodgers last season, when he became known as Tio Albert.

He touched the plate and raced to the backstop, where he slapped hands with Adrian Beltre, who was seated in the front row. Like Pujols, Beltre is from Santo Domingo. Pujols was received at the dugout by his teammates, then returned to the field for a curtain call and answered a standing ovation more than 50,000 strong with a pantomimed hug.

“It was here,” he said, “where my joy came back.”

An inning earlier, he blasted No. 699, also into the left-field bleachers, this against former Angels teammate Andrew Heaney

Afterward, he sat in a press conference surrounded by his five children. He’d been toasted in the Cardinals clubhouse, showered with beer and water, then dumped into a laundry bin.

“I struggled getting out,” he said with a grin and tired eyes.

Nearing the end of his 22-year-career, at 42 years old, Pujols has ridden a second-half power surge to a place where few others have gone. Since the second week of August, Pujols has hit 13 home runs, reviving a swing that once made him one of the game’s most feared hitters.

Prior to the game, Pujols’s 21-year-old son, A.J., stood in the Cardinals’ dugout and marveled at his father’s career and then a final season that defied expectations.

“It’s amazing,” A.J. said. “Like he’s turned back time. Like he’s 25 again.”

Thicker in the middle, balder on top, lighter in his bearing, Pujols won the last of his three National League MVP awards 13 years ago. He this year rejoined St. Louis, his original team, after a long downward slide in the later years of a long-term contract with the Los Angeles Angels and a brief stop with the Dodgers.

He was released by the Angels last May, with months remaining on a 10-year, $240-million contract. He signed with the Dodgers, an experience he said renewed his energy for the game and led to the decision to return for one final season. To his right, late Friday night, his daughter Isabella wore a Dodgers blue baseball cap with her father’s picture on the crown.

Pujols gestured to his children.

“That’s who I play for,” he said.

He called them, “These kiddos.”

In the weeks before he intends to retire, he has summoned the lip-licking, hard-gazing, batter’s box presence that dominated pitchers for years.

On Sept. 10, his 696th home run tied Alex Rodriguez for fifth place on the all-time list. He passed Rodriguez on the following afternoon. That left only the big, round number ahead, the magical 700, and a dwindling number of games and swings to get there.

He said it might take some time to put it all into context, that his early thoughts were about the people who first believed in him, men such as Fernando Arango, a Tampa Bay scout who died of cancer three years ago, and Tony La Russa, his first manager, but admitted, “It’s pretty special.”

Pujols’s 700th came in his 3,072nd game. On his way to a record 762 home runs, Bonds reached 700 in his 2,702nd game. Aaron, who finished with 755, arrived at 700 in his 2,920th game and Ruth in his 2,418th game. He would hit 14 more. With 10 games remaining in his final regular season, Pujols also has 3,377 hits, 10th all-time, and 2,208 RBI, third all-time and six behind Ruth. He said he did not have either ball he hit Friday night and had no real interest in them.

“Souvenirs,” he said, “are for the fans. If they want to keep the baseball, they can.”

In the weeks leading to No. 700, Pujols often guided conversations away from his own accomplishments and toward the Cardinals’ drive to win their first NL Central title since 2019. Their move to the top of the division coincided roughly with Pujols’ hot second half. Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado, both MVP candidates, had done much of the work prior to that and then alongside Pujols.

Pujols did muse, however, about the skinny kid from Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, who grew into a career he could not have imagined. The young man who hoped one day to reach the big leagues. The uncertain ballplayer who fell under the wings of Placido Polanco, Fernando Vina, Edgar Renteria, Mark McGwire and others in St. Louis. The grown man who will retire on what Dodgers manager Dave Roberts called “the Mt. Rushmore of sluggers.” But whose legacy is as likely to be about the next skinny kids from Santo Domingo, the next young men with dreams and the next uncertain ballplayers in need of encouragement, because he took the time for them, too.

“That’s part of the responsibility that you have,” he said recently. “You know, God has led me to so much in my life and my career and my talent. But at the end of the day, man, it’s about giving back and helping people. That’s what I try to do and make an impact. Whether it’s in baseball or when I’m done, five or 10 years from now, if somebody would come to me and say that I helped them, that would mean a lot. And that’s the mark I want to leave behind. Part of that is because of the responsibility I feel for the game. And I love it.”

For years, in dozens of ballparks, young players, many of them from the Dominican Republic, would stand near Pujols after he arrived, hoping to say hello and shake his hand. He was the great Pujols, who one day would put his name beside the best who ever played. He had made the journey, too. He had known their fight. His glowering presence in the box and single-minded pursuit of hitting the ball hard belied the charming man who knew their names and hometowns.

When he was asked what he liked most about the game today, the one he insists he’ll walk away from when the Cardinals’ season is over, he said, “The talent,” then listed the names: Fernando Tatis Jr., Ronald Acuna Jr., Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Julio Rodriguez and Juan Soto.

One day, perhaps, one of them will be chasing the numbers he leaves, if they have another couple of decades in them.

“If you would have asked me 22 years ago if it could’ve gone like this, I’d have said, ‘Are you crazy?’” he said with a laugh. “And I’m getting to enjoy it more. It wasn’t like I wasn’t enjoying it before, but I was so serious. Now I’m having a blast.”

In the end, he will be the player who hit more than 20 home runs in 18 seasons, who hit more than 30 homers 13 times and who hit more than 40 six times. Like Aaron, he never hit 50. Also like Aaron, he was a generational right-handed hitter who, by the end, had earned his place among the best.

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