Good as Gold

Pujols, era's best, set to break the bank

First baseman Albert Pujols appears to be seeking divine intervention on a new contract with St. Louis. (Jeff Roberson/AP)

Albert Pujols is already the player of his generation, which is a helluva thing because the sixth generation of baseball's modern era still has 9 years to run.

The Cardinals' brilliant first baseman is just 31 and he has another World Series title after last night's 6-2 win over Texas in Game 7, so he will be playing most of those years.

However, a baseball generation is a tricky thing - 20 years, 25 years, longer.

The Bible's obsolete 20 years work best for baseball because that number more accurately fits the career span of a best-of-generation player.

In fact, of the six players I believe merit Best of Generation status dating to 1900, the first five have come close to or exceeded the 20-year mark.

Before getting into the ongoing and awesome body of Pujols' work, best by far of a generation that began in 2000 and will run to 2020, let's check the five best of baseball's first 100 modern-era years.

• 1900-1920. Tyrus Raymond Cobb, with filed spikes down. A miserable human being and magnificent ballplayer, the Georgia Peach symbolized the lawless, unregulated game played before the 1919 Black Sox Scandal. Cobb went into the stands and beat up a one-armed heckler during a Detroit-New York Highlanders game in 1912. He also probably helped tank a game or two, although that unproven allegation was swept under the rug. Cobb was so hated during his 24-year career that he batted .409 in 1912 and finished No. 7 in the MVP voting.

1920-1940. Babe Ruth. He was greater in the way he grew baseball into the national pastime than even his amazing feats as both youthful Red Sox pitching ace and gluttonous, record-book obliterating slugger. Babe played 22 memorable seasons.

1940-1960. Ted Williams. Who knows what the greatest pure hitter of the 20th century might have accomplished had he not flown Corsairs in World War II and jets in Korea during two tours of duty that lopped four seasons off what should have been a 23-year career? Hit under .300 and was under a 1.000 OPS only one season. He was 40 that year but bounced back with a 29-homer adieu.

1960-1980. Willie Mays. My vote for greatest all-around player I have seen. He was an MVP at ages 23 and 34. He hit 50-plus homers 11 years apart. But Mays straddled two calendar generations, so I'm forced to split hairs. By the way, his was baseball's greatest generation. Behind Mays, but not by much, were superstars Hank Aaron, Mickey Mantle, Frank Robinson and Roberto Clemente.

1980-2000. Barry Bonds. I hate to throw props at the poster child of the Juiced Generation. But his was another split gen. Ken Griffey Jr. and Alex Rodriguez also fell into the same calendar cracks. Whatever, between 1990 and 2000, nobody was better than Bonds. He didn't crank out his obviously PED'd 73 homers until 2001. But his as yet unasterisked 2001-04 seasons - BALCO Barry's four straight MVPs, ending at age 39 - will never be surpassed. MLB's PED cops will see to that.

Which brings us to the 2000-2020 generation that Albert Pujols has dominated so far.

The man who just tied Babe Ruth and Reggie Jackson with his World Series Game 3 explosion of three home runs is getting a little harder to like these days. His vanishing act after Game 2, after helping snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, implies the guy is a little more full of himself than he used to be.

Of course, the Cardinals, including defrocked genius Tony La Russa (if the phone don't ring, you'll know it's him), are not accustomed to a media avalanche in Baseball Heaven.

With a population of about 320,000, St. Louis is one of the smallest cities in major league baseball and ranks No. 18 in greater-metro market size. Since the St. Louis Globe Democrat folded in 1987, it has been a one-newspaper town.

For years, when Cardinals PR man Jim Toomey sneezed in the press box, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch guys chorused, "Gesundheit." A number of cynical visiting writers swore Toomey was the actual official scorer. In fact, after Jim retired in 1987, he was the official scorer until 2000.

There was a noticeable sea change when Anheuser-Busch ended its longtime Cardinals ownership.

Columnist Bernie Miklasz did not sound like a Post-Dispatch house man after La Russa's Game 5 telephone fiasco. He wrote:

"I didn't think we'd see La Russa and the bullpen have a ridiculous, inexcusable miscommunication that led to TLR being forced to stick with lefty reliever Marc Rzepczynski to face Rangers slugger Mike Napoli, who clubbed the game-winning, two-run double in the eighth inning . . . "

Then we had Pujols giving himself the hit-and-run in Game 5, breaking the cardinal rule - pun intended - that the hitter must make every attempt to protect the runner by swinging at the pitch. Prince Albert took a high outside pitch and hapless Allen Craig was gunned down by Napoli. Fox's Tim McCarver did sharp work in immediately smoking out Pujols' culpability.

None of that should detract from Pujols' body of work, however. Wherever he lands in 2012, Prince Albert should become the highest-paid player in baseball history - unless he gives the small-market Cardinals a home-club discount. That seems to be a slim chance.

Make no mistake. Pujols will be paid. The numbers he permitted to trickle into the media mainstream were on the order of $300 million for 10 years. I figure the guy will take $25 million per for 8 years, a $200 million pittance.

I was thinking aloud recently about how good Albert might look at third for the Phillies, but have been assured he was not very good there almost 10 years ago. And while cat-quick at first, his range is limited. Even The Big Piece goes to his left as well (and is lefthanded to boot.)

So, I think we can forget about GM Ruben Amaro giving billionaire minority partner John Middleton a sly wink and a suggestion at the next quarterly owners meeting.

This looks to be a job for a really motivated buyer. Maybe this is the big splash new GM Theo Epstein will try to make in Chicago. Can you picture this beast of a slugger in Wrigley Field?

His 162-game career averages are way off the charts: .328 batting average, 123 runs, 197 hits, 43 doubles, 42 homers, 126 RBI, 93 walks, 67 strikeouts, .420 on-base percentage, 1.037 OPS.

Epic . . .

Baseball's player of the 2000-2020 generation earned $16 million this season.

That low-priced dog will no longer hunt.

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