Baseball Greats: Gehrig vs. Pujols

Lou Gehrig vs Albert PujolsBaseball has seen its share of dominant first basemen, and you can buy baseball cards for almost every one. First base has evolved into the position many sluggers play because it’s the least demanding defensive position. Think of David Ortiz, Cecil (or Prince) Fielder and Miguel Cabrera. These players aren’t sleek athletes; they’re powerfully built men who can hit a baseball a long way.

It’s no wonder that there are 19 Hall of Fame first basemen. From Cap Anson (first game, 1876) to Eddie Murray (last game, 1997), first basemen have dominated the game for more than a century. There are more than these 19 greats, of course, including:

  • Dick Allen
  • Jeff Bagwell
  • Todd Helton (not yet eligible)
  • Keith Hernandez
  • Mark McGwire
  • John Olerud
  • Rafael Palmeiro
  • Jim Thome (not yet eligible)

Who’s the Greatest?

Of the 19 Hall of Famers, the Iron Horse Lou Gehrig leads in on-base percentage (.447), slugging percentage (.632) and RBIs (1,995). He’s only two points behind batting average leader Dan Brouthers (.342 to .340). He’s fifth in home runs, too. His team, the New York Yankees, won more pennants and World Series than any other, thanks in part to his efforts.

These are impressive numbers for anyone to have put up over 17 seasons. They are Hall of Fame numbers, no matter what position Gehrig played, and he played against stiff competition, such as Jimmie Foxx, Joe Judge, Johnny Mize and Bill Terry, many in the Hall of Fame too. Regardless, one sports publication named Lou Gehrig the greatest first baseman in Major League history.

Imagine what more he could have accomplished if his career hadn’t been cut tragically short. He was just 36 when his career ended as a result of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a nervous system disorder now more commonly referred to as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s Disease. Many players today are still in their primes at age 36. You already know this if you buy baseball cards of current players.

Modern Competition

Compared to the accomplishments of the 19 Hall of Fame first basemen, Albert Pujols has shown he belongs. If he stopped playing today, at the end of July 2017, Pujols would join this elite group with the most home runs — 605. He’s already surpassed the former high: Harmon Killebrew’s 573. Only eight other players in the history of the sport have hit more. Period.

Pujols is still playing at age 37 and is signed through the 2021 season, when he’ll be 41 years old. So, he’s sure to add to his home run total. Buy baseball cards of his present and future seasons to check his up-to-date numbers. He’s not just a one-trick pony, either. He compares favorably to other Hall of Fame first basemen:

  • His .306 batting average is like Jake Beckley’s .308.
  • His .565 slugging percentage resembles Johnny Mize’s .562.
  • His .388 on-base percentage is nearly as good as Frank Chance’s .394.
  • His 108 stolen bases compare to Eddie Murray’s 110.
  • His 1,876 RBIs, already 12th on the all-time list, looks like Cap Anson’s 1,879.

In fact, Albert Pujols seems to be a shoe-in for Hall of Fame voting after he retires. With luck, he’ll pass Ken Griffey, Jr. and even Willie Mays in career home runs.

In Comparison

Like other baseball player comparisons appearing in this blog, it’s difficult to name one player over another:

When you buy baseball cards, the most valuable aren’t always of the greatest players. The oldest and rarest cards win that competition. Looking at pure statistics and history, however, it may always seem that no one will ever match Lou Gehrig and his impact on the game. Albert Pujols has had a Hall of Fame career so far, no doubt, but Gehrig redefined excellence and reliability.