Pujols is turning 30.
Just as the All-Star break marks an unofficial midway point in the season, the 30th birthday is a sort of marker in a player's career. It's not that Pujols will necessarily double his career stats between now and when he hangs it up. But it's certainly a line of demarcation.
And whatever expectations Pujols may have had when he was a youngster for what he would accomplish by age 30 have surely been surpassed.
He's the game's best player and, in many corners, the public face of baseball. He's a three-time Most Valuable Player and a Clemente Award winner. He may soon be in line for a historic contract, and he's done everything while still in his 20s.
For what it's worth, the Cardinals obviously believe that the early 30s are no indicator of a slowdown. They just committed seven years and at least $120 million to Pujols' fellow middle-of-the-order thumper, Matt Holliday. In an odd coincidence, Holliday was born exactly one day before Pujols.
If Pujols even comes close to matching what he's already done, he's headed for the Hall of Fame. He's actually not yet eligible, though he will be at the end of this year. A player must play for 10 seasons to appear on a Hall of Fame ballot.
This will be Pujols' 10th big league campaign, and it might be the last remaining obstacle between him and Cooperstown. A lot can happen, of course -- but a lot would have to happen for Pujols' 30s to keep him out of the Hall.
AMONG THE BEST
|* Day-by-day game totals unavailable in 1948 and prior, but since the birthdays for Ruth, Foxx, Greenberg and DiMaggio were all during offseason, complete age 30 stats are available. With Williams, totals are through Aug. 31, 1948, since monthly stats are available for that season. For comparison's sake, the OBP and SLG for Williams throughout the 1947 season are listed.|
"There's three things that as a professional athlete you want," Pujols said when he was named the 2009 MVP. "You want to get to the big leagues, and I accomplished that. Winning a World Series ring, I got that. And then getting to the Hall of Fame. That's everybody's dream. Every athlete, they want to be up there in the Hall of Fame, mentioned with the greatest players to ever play this game."
His age-30 numbers unquestionably put him in that class. Pujols has more home runs at 30 than Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, Willie Mays or Barry Bonds could manage. His career on-base percentage and slugging percentage surpass those of Joe DiMaggio, Bonds, Mays and even Alex Rodriguez.
And of course, Aaron, Ruth and Mays aren't just Hall of Famers. They're inner-circle guys, the elite among the elite.
"I don't like to compare myself with any of those guys," Pujols said late in the season when asked about taking his place in history. "I respect those guys and what they did, what they accomplished. Don't get me wrong. I'm blessed to be named in the same category as those guys. But those guys are Hall of Famers and they deserve every respect."
So settle in, because there's a lot of good stuff still to come.
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.