Why is it so hard for us to dub someone the greatest of all time? Is the characterization really based so much on opinion that a consensus cannot be reached? Perhaps. But I thunk it goes beyond that. People are afraid. They do not want to dust off a crown given to someone long ago, pass it on to the next great thing, only to have that crown yanked away and given to someone new. The debates about the greatest of all time are so historically based, not many are willing to pluck a modern player from the pool and throw them into the discussion. Instead, people will use phrases like “one of the greatest,” or “the greatest of his time,” or “in the discussion as one of the best.”
These debates are not limited to sports. The same restrictions apply when talking about the greatest politicians, greatest writers, greatest actors, and greatest artists. Modern men and women are often compared to the old timers, but rarely vaulted to the top. DeNiro is this generation’s Brando, or Mitch Albom is good, but he’s no Hemmingway. Albert Pujols is one of the modern masterpieces for which most are afraid to push to the top.
The problem with naming someone the greatest of all time lies in two parts. One, how does one classify the greatest, empirically or all-encompassing. And two, how does one overcome the lore created by those who no longer play (and in many cases, no longer walk this earth)? The first problem can be overcome. The second usually cannot.
Albert Pujols is generally considered the greatest player in the game today, but change that discussion from a current focus to a historical one, and very few will jump at naming Pujols the greatest. I will not shy away from it though. There is no question in my mind that, like Michael Jordan and basketball, Albert Pujols is the greatest to ever play baseball.
His statistics speak for themselves. He is a fearless hitter, both determined and driven. Barring extensive stints on the disabled list, Pujols will break countless records. He is a shoe-in for the Hall of Fame. He makes those who doubt him look foolish. But what sets him apart from the classics? Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle. The list can go on. But isn’t that the point? If you can talk about each of those players in the same breath, what sets them apart from each other? Pujols has had in-arguably the greatest eleven years to start a career ever. And at 31, he has a good six to seven years of dominance ahead of him. Even beyond that, he could still be a contributor. No one knows for sure how long Pujols will play, but would anyone doubt he could do it into his forties?
If Pujols performs at even 75% of his career average, and does so for the next six years, he will amass 647 home runs, 1,899 RBI, and 2,961 hits. But who really thinks he will only go six more years? Who really thinks he can only perform at 75% of his career numbers? But the statistics are only part of the equation.
No one else has played the game like him. He approaches the game knowing — not thinking, not hoping — but knowing he is the best. Albert Pujols dominates like no one we have ever seen or read about. Because honestly, isn’t that the problem? We have only read about many of the greats. Pujols in person must be compared to Ruth on paper or film. He must be compared to stories of Williams and Mays. The man must stand up to the legends. And for his entire career he has. So, at risk of breaking unwritten rules, at the risk of crossing hidden lines, I can admit that Pujols is the greatest of all time.