You love baseball. Tim Kurkjian loves baseball. So while we await its return, every day we’ll provide you with a story or two tied to this date in baseball history.
ON THIS DATE IN 2001, Albert Pujols set the rookie record for homers in April with eight.
Former Royals catcher Mike Macfarlane owns a batting cage in Kansas City. He said in the offseason before the 2001 season, “this big guy came in every day, he never said a word to anyone, he hit all day,” Macfarlane said. “I had no idea who he was, but man, could he hit.”
As Macfarlane and I were doing Baseball Tonight in early April 2001, he saw the guy from the batting cage wearing a Cardinals uniform. Macfarlane said, “That’s the guy!”
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It was Albert Pujols. He was a prospect, but not a can’t-miss prospect. He wasn’t even supposed to make the team out of spring training that year, “but every time we put him in a game, he did something really well,” then-Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said. “He hit wherever we put him.”
That April, Pujols played wherever he was needed: third base, first base, the outfield.
“By that time,” La Russa said, “we knew what we had.”
They had one of the best players of all time. Pujols won the Rookie of the Year in 2001 and finished fourth in the MVP voting. He arguably had the best first 10 seasons of anyone in the history of the game. He won three MVPs in 10 years and finished among the top six in the other seven seasons. He hit at least 30 homers and drove in at least 100 runs for 10 straight seasons, and was the best player on two World Series champions in St. Louis.
“Here’s who Albert is,” La Russa told me several years into Pujols’ great career. “He is the guy in the intrasquad game in spring training who is jumping off the bench yelling when his teammate scores from second on a single. That’s Albert. All Albert cares about is winning.”
Other baseball notes for April 28
In 1934, Tigers outfielder Goose Goslin grounded into four double plays (however, GIDPs were not officially counted in the AL until 1940). In 1975, the Mets’ Joe Torre grounded into four double plays, then jokingly blamed teammate Felix Millan, who was hitting in front of him in the order. “It’s his fault,” Torre said. “This never would have happened to me if he hadn’t gotten on base four times.”
In 1982, Pete Rose went 5-for-5. Rose would finish his career with 10 five-hit games, tying Wee Willie Keeler for second most ever. Ty Cobb had 14.
In 2006, the Rangers’ Kevin Mench hit a home run for the seventh consecutive game, one short of the major league record. He wore a Size 8 cap. His teammates called him Shrek. In the 41 years I have covered baseball, the three biggest heads I’ve seen belong to Bruce Bochy, Jay Horwitz, the great PR director for the Mets for a million years, and Kevin Mench. All three would laugh about that, and never dispute it.
In 1960, Reds pitcher Tom Browning was born. During the 1990 World Series, his wife went into labor. He left the ballpark without telling anyone and went straight to a hospital in Oakland, California. He wasn’t supposed to pitch that night, so he thought it was safe to leave. But when things got hairy late in the game, Reds manager Lou Piniella told his pitching coach to get Browning ready, just in case. Too late. Browning was in the hospital, in full uniform, next to his wife. The next day, I asked him what the nurses said to him about being in uniform. “Nothing,” he said, “I think they thought I was just a big fan of the team.”