If you check out the list of players who are most comparable to Albert Pujols, over on Baseball Reference, you’ll find guys who played across a range of decades, from the 1930s on through the 2010s.
It was a trend that began as soon as Pujols broke through to the Major Leagues in 2001, too. That spring, following just one season in the St. Louis Cardinals’ minor league system after they made him their 13th-round draft pick in 1999, Pujols lay claim to a place in the big league, and he never looked back.
That summer, in 161 games split between first base, third base, and the outfield, Pujols hit .329 with 37 home runs and 130 RBI as a 21-year-old to win National League Rookie of the Year honors. When you added in his 69 walks and 47 RBI, you got a profile that mostly closely resembled Joe DiMaggio at the same age.
Through all the MVP seasons and statistical milestones and huge contracts to follow, Pujols’ comps included the likes of Joe D., Miguel Cabrera, Jimmie Foxx, Hank Aaron, Frank Robinson, and Rafael Palmeiro.
Move off the number-one comp, and you find dudes like Willie Mays and Ken Griffey, Jr., and Mel Ott a bit further down the list.
That’s some heady company no matter how you look at it, and really no surprise at this stage of the game.
Pujols, especially early in his career, combined the best of the old and the new, racking up huge numbers in traditional categories like homers, hits, and batting average, while also keeping the Sabermetrics crowd happy with his patience at the plate and effective — though not prolific — base-stealing.
Isn’t it fitting, then, that Pujols headlined one of the most influential sets of that rookie season, one that combined old and new like Prince Albert himself did?
Late that year, after the base Topps and Bowman sets had more or less run their course, and after the success of the inaugural Topps Heritage issue before Spring Training, Topps decided to try a mashup of sorts.
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Enter the 2001 Bowman Heritage set, modeled after the old 1948 Bowman issue, featuring black-and-white images inside of plain white borders.
That took care of the old.
The new came into play with a standard card size and a checklist of 440 cards packed with the game’s biggest stars, and, of course, some not so starry players.
Shining bright even in the midst of the diamond constellation of this set, though, was a Pujols rookie card, slotted at number 351, part of a short-print run (331-440) to end the set, another nod to the hobby’s past.
Along with an Ichiro Suzuki RC, Albert was and is the highlight of the set.
The tie between Pujols and Bowman Heritage goes deeper, too, at least if you want it to, and hold it just so, and read it just right.
See, Topps issued another set of the Bowman throwback’s each year from 2002 through 2007, while Pujols was busy building his legend, playing like greats of the past, present, and future all at once.
But in the final season of that run, Pujols became inexplicably human for a few months, managing “just” 32 home runs and 103 RBI, while watching his OPS drop below 1.000 (at .997) for the first time since 2002.
It would have been a career year for almost anyone else, and it produced an NL-leading 8.7 WAR, but it was a “bad” enough showing to drop Pujols to ninth in MVP voting — the first time he’d ever dropped below third.
And the next year?
Well, that would be the first time collectors got no Bowman Heritage Pujols card, because Topps dropped the set from their lineup.
Maybe, but when Pujols stopped doing things other guys couldn’t or hadn’t, even just for awhile, Topps did, too.
Or maybe it was just more of the old and new mixing their fortunes, and then finding it impossible to pull it all apart again.
There are all sorts of delectable hunks of memorabilia out there surrounding Pujols’ legendary career, and you won’t have any trouble finding lots along the lines of this one on eBay …
The seller says those are the actual bases used in Detroit when Phat Albert collected his 2000th RBI back in 2019.
It’s an interesting, big-money lot, to be sure. Check out the full listing on eBay right here (affiliate link).
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