Picture a tall, imposing figure sauntering into the right-handed batter’s box at Busch Stadium.
Now picture him slowly waggling his bat, staring back at an intimidated pitcher. Finally, picture this burly figure launching a hanging slider into a sea of red in the second deck of the left field stands.
What does he look like? Is he a fair-haired Irish-American?
For a long time, this was the face of the St. Louis Cardinals. The left field bleachers were Big Mac Land. But all along there were whispers. His chest couldn’t be that big naturally, could it? 70 home runs? Come on.
As the mass corruption of baseball’s steroid era revealed itself, the whispers turned into shouts. The game was tainted. And at the centre of the controversy was St. Louis’ slugger, who was “not here to talk about the past.”
But hope wasn’t lost in the Gateway City. Salvation may have come in 2001 in the form of a kid from the Dominican Republic.
Albert Pujols has dominated the Majors since bursting onto the scene in 2001 with one of the best rookie seasons ever. He’s since averaged 43 home runs, 129 RBIs and 124 runs per 162 games and hit .334. He’s been the picture of consistency, never playing less than 143 games in a season. Pujols won Rookie of the Year, two MVPs , a Gold Glove and Silver Slugger awards at three different positions.
Sports Illustrated’s Joe Posnanski and Bill James make the case that Pujols may have had the greatest start to a career ever. And when you’ve made it to two World Series—winning one—and the biggest blemish on your statistical record is falling one shy of 100 runs in 2007, it’s hard to argue.
And timing is everything. The SI article came out on July 13, the same day as another possible career-defining story about Pujols.
USA Today’s Bob Nightengale asked Pujols — currently enjoying a career year in a career of career years—thequestion many have wanted to ask him. Is he on performance enhancing drugs?
Pujols is knocking the snot out of the baseball. He also fills out that Cardinals uniform in much the same way the other Cardinals slugger did. That’s almost enough for indictment in baseball these days.
The speculation surrounding Pujols shows he has yet to emerge from that other Cardinal’s shadow. And with Manny Ramirez and Alex Rodriguez making headlines for cheating earlier this year, baseball has yet to come out from under the dark cloud of the steroid era.
But Pujols was vehement in his answer. No.
“I would never do any of that crap,” he told USA Today. “You think I’m going to ruin my relationship with God just because I want to get better in this game? You think I’m going to ruin everything because of steroids?”
“Come and test me every day if you want,” Pujols added. “Everything I made in this game I would give back to the Cardinals if I got caught.”
Strong words from a big, strong man. But isn’t it possible Pujols’ size and success has come from a mix of God-given ability and hard work? Baseball fans might have believed it 15 years ago.
But Pujols has some back up. He was apparently tested six times last year. All the tests came out clean.
Maybe he’s telling the truth. Maybe St. Louis is the perfect place for a new, true baseball hero to emerge and wash away the memories. Maybe you rebuild at the scene of the crime.
Pujols would love to be the guy to remodel baseball’s image.
“I want to be the guy people look up to,” he told USA Today. “But I want to be the person who represents God, represents my family and represents the Cardinals the right way.”
If he’s telling the truth, fans might just be ready for that kind of hero. He sure can hit, after all. And if a clean Albert Pujols keeps hitting the way he is, maybe he can erase the memory of that other barrel-chested Cardinals slugger.
We at The Throwback like to put a historical spin on our sports. But to be honest, we don’t know quite how Leif Olson’s hole-in-one at the 2009 RBC Canadian Open fits into golf history. But we’re damn sure it fits in somehow.
Olsen’s shot was unlike anything you’ll ever see. And though we’re sure it has happened somewhere before, it’s doubtul it has ever happened to win a $50,000 BMW Z4 Roadster.
Do yourself a favour and check out the video. You have to wonder what his playing partner thought. But everyone who saw the shot must have known they witnessed history.
When Tom Watson failed to chop his second shot out of the impossibly long fescue of Turnberry’s 17th hole, it all was over.
The 59-year-old legend would not win his ninth major championship. He would not win his sixth British Open. And he would not become the oldest golfer — by a decade — to win a major.
Stuart Cink, 36, drained a three-foot putt on at the 18th to seal the victory in the four-hour playoff and win the 2009 Open Championship. But the tournament was decided in the long grass on 17.
Commentators struggled over the last hole-and-a-half to remind viewers that Cink, too, was a worthy champion. Cink birdied 18 to drop to -2 and force the playoff, then finished six shots ahead of the struggling Watson who never recovered from missing a potential Open-winning putt on the final hole of regulation.
History was made Sunday at Turnberry—it was Cink’s first major. But not the history everyone was hoping for. Watson was at the top of the leaderboard for much of the weekend. And he was definitely the biggest story. Watson could have put his name in the record books as the oldest champion of the oldest major championship, at 59 and 149 years, respectively.
But even though Watson lost the playoff by a landslide, it was certainly one for the ages.
It was one of those rare moments in sports where athletes from different generations compete head-to-head.
It’s the type of treat sports fan get every time 46-year-old Jamie Moyer faces a rookie who hadn’t been born when Moyer made his Major League debut in 23 years ago. But seldom does such a showdown happen on such a grand stage.
45-year-old George Forman shocked the boxing world when he knocked out 26-year-old Michael Moorer to win the IBF and WBA Heavyweight Championships. But as any teenager trying to buy beer with a fake ID will tell you, there’s a difference between 19 and 23.
And there’s certainly a difference between 45 and 59. Even in a less physically -demanding sport like golf, Watson walking up the 18th fairway with a chance to turn 60 as Open Champion was historic. Watson has literally been winning the British open since Cink was in diapers.
It’s impossible to say if fatigue had anything to do with Watson’s eventual collapse in the playoff. 76 holes is a lot of golf for anyone. But Watson’s performance will be remembered for ages and ages.
Cooperstown, Brooklyn, Boston.
These are places that come to mind when we think of the origins of baseball. Very few of us would think of London, Ontario, Canada.
But London is home to the Labatt park, the recently-recognized oldest baseball park in the world. Labatt Park has been in operation since 1877, and survived floods and the emergence of hockey to remain a tribute to a lost era of baseball– an era when America’s dominance in baseball hadn’t quite taken hold.
The Throwback has the story of a baseball shrine, tucked away in a city the sport forgot.
Hey folks. The Throwback is now up and running.
In this little corner of the web, we’ll be taking a look at sports from a historical perspective. That doesn’t mean it’s for curmudgeons who long for the good old days, though. We’re just going to appreciate the rich history of North American sports, and look at modern sports with an historical eye.
We’re going to try and keep the rants to a minimum, and give you informational, thought provoking stuff here. In the coming weeks, we’ll have articles on everything from inflated salaries, to why pitchers are blowing their arms out so much these days, despite pitching way less.
So stay tuned. And thanks for stopping by.