One of the signs of true greatness is the lack of any good comparables. There simply haven’t been many talents like Albert Pujols in Major League Baseball history. Through 11 big-league seasons, he’s won three NL MVP awards and finished second four times. He’s finished in the top five in the balloting 10 times.
Overall, Pujols has hit .328/.420/.617 with 445 homers and 1,329 RBI. He’d be a Hall of Famer if he retired today, yet we know that that’s unlikely, what with the Marlins offering him a whopping 10-year contract to continue his career through 2021.
So, despite the fact that Pujols doesn’t really have any equals in big-league history and there’s plenty of speculation that he’s actually a couple of years older than his listed age of 31, I thought it’d be fun to see when his most comparable players turned in their last Hall of Fame-caliber seasons. Here’s the list, going by Baseball-Reference’s most similar list:
1. Jimmie Foxx – 138 OPS+ at age 33
2. Ken Griffey Jr. – 144 OPS+ at age 35
3. Frank Robinson – 141 OPS+ at age 38
4. Hank Aaron – 177 OPS+ at age 39
5. Lou Gehrig – 132 OPS+ at age 35
6. Mickey Mantle – 149 OPS+ at age 35
7. Mel Ott – 151 OPS+ at age 36
8. Juan Gonzalez – 148 OPS+ at age 31
9. Willie Mays – 158 OPS+ at age 40
10. Manny Ramirez – 153 OPS+ at age 37
It doesn’t exactly bode well for Pujols’ two bidders that only four of these 10 players had productive seasons after their 36th birthdays. Still, Pujols fits more into a class with Aaron and Mays than he does Griffey and Gonzalez. Plus, it’s definitely easier for athletes to stay in shape than it once was.
So, yeah, there’s a really good chance that Pujols will still be an All-Star-type performer in his upper-30s. Of course, it’s going to be tough to keep it going at 40, and if Pujols is actually entering his age-34 season in 2012, not his age-32 season, that 10-year contract could get ugly by the time it’s barely more than halfway through.
But that’s the price one pays to land the player of the century.