Major League Baseball
 
Hey, hey, hey it's Phat Albert

By Chris Ruddick
MLB Editor

Chris Ruddick Logo Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Albert Pujols is out of his mind right now.

The St. Louis slugger has followed up an MVP campaign in 2005 with an amazing first month to the season, as he is hitting .344 heading into Tuesday's action and leads the majors with 12 homers and 28 RBI.

His 12 bombs, eight of which have come over his last nine games, are also one short of the major league record for April set by Ken Griffey Jr. in 1997 and Luis Gonzalez in 2001.

I remember getting into a discussion at work before the season started on who I would rather start a team with -- Pujols or Alex Rodriguez? At the time I didn't even hesitate and said A-Rod would be my choice, but watching Pujols over the past few weeks I might have made a mistake.

At 26, Pujols has clearly become not just the best hitter, but the best player in the game. If there was ever a knock on him it was the fact that he really never had a position to play because he was such a hack in the field.

However, he has become a serviceable first baseman with the glove. Don't get me wrong he will never be confused with Keith Hernandez, but he is also not Mike Piazza out there. Plus, unlike Hernandez, Pujols thinks women have a place in the dugout.

Pujols even has a bit of a temper. Why any pitcher would try to make him mad is beyond me, but that is just what Pittsburgh Pirates ace Oliver Perez did last week.

Last Tuesday Perez got Pujols to ground out back to him. Then after throwing to first to retire El Hombre, Perez did a little dance. Pujols, who saw Perez do the same dance when he struck him out last season, took exception.

"I went to the video room and told my guy Chad (Blair), 'I'm going to hit the next ball and I'm going to hit it a long way. But don't look at the ball. Look at where the bat is going to land,'" said Pujols. "Because I respect this game just like everybody else. And when I see a guy like that, with the talent that he has, disrespecting the game -- that might be the way that he pitches, but I don't care."

Pujols proceeded to belt a home run in his next at-bat and flipped the bat about 20 feet, drawing the wrath from not only writers in Pittsburgh, but also some in St. Louis, as well as some of his teammates.

"(Scott) Rolen mentioned something, but he knew why I did it," Pujols said. "He knew I was pretty upset about the way the guy is, but he was one of the guys who told me, 'Hey, you're a better player than that. You respect this game so much. Don't bring it down to that level, because you are the one that is going to look stupid.' Which I did. I looked stupid. That was my fault. I'm human. I make mistakes. Drop it like it's hot. That's it."

That is exactly what Pujols did on Monday when he again homered off Perez. He simply dropped the bat, put his head down and dashed around the bases.

"I probably shouldn't bring it down to that level like I did last week, but I showed today that that's not the way I play the game," Pujols added. "At the same time, I need to respect my teammates. Because I don't want any of my guys to get hurt from me doing something stupid like that."

Pujols, who recently became the fastest player in major league history to reach 1,000 hits with 200 home runs, kind of reminds me of the NBA's Tim Duncan, another unassuming superstar who is the best in his game, even though his style of play is considered boring.

Duncan does not give you the highlight-reel dunks and he is definitely not the most outspoken person in the world, but year after year his San Antonio Spurs are deep in the playoffs and he is right at the top of the MVP voting. You could probably give him the award every year, but that would be boring.

The same can now be said for Pujols. His game is boring, there is no drama. You know exactly what you are getting from him, an average in the mid-300's, 40-plus homers, and upwards of 120 RBI. At least with A-Rod you know there is better than a 50-50 chance he is not coming through in the clutch. It is not even exciting when Pujols is up in a big spot, you know he is coming through.

With the baseball public a little soured by the all steroid stuff surrounding Barry Bonds, Pujols is a breath of fresh air. With that said maybe we can start seeing more stories on him rather than the daily Bonds updates that show highlights of balls once headed towards McCovey Cove now reaching the warning track.

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Chris Ruddick at cruddick@sportsnetwork.com.
Chris Ruddick

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