• Paul Waner, the Hall of Fame outfielder, began his career with nine straight outstanding seasons (1926--34) for the Pirates. In his second season he hit .380, drove in 131 runs and had 237 hits. But in all honesty, some of his seasons were not quite up to Pujols's standard. In 1931 Waner hit .322 with six homers, 70 RBIs, 88 runs scored, 180 hits. It's a good year; it's not a Pujols-caliber season.
Joe: It really is rare for great hitters to be great in their first year. Only 30 Hall of Famers had 500 plate appearances in their first season. (Interestingly enough, one of those Hall of Famers is Sparky Anderson, who's in the Hall as a manager. Sparky had 527 plate appearances in his first year, with the Phillies ... and he never had a single at bat in the big leagues after that. One and done. Nobody else ever had a career like that.) And only a handful of those Hall of Famers—Williams, Waner, DiMaggio, Mays, Frank Robinson, Earl Averill, Eddie Murray, a few others—were complete players right from the start.
Bill: There are so few players who compare to Pujols from the start of a career that I thought we could modify our criteria just a bit and 1) look for players who had nine consecutive seasons as good as Pujols's at any point in their careers and 2) not insist that those nine seasons be as good as Albert's weakest season, just somewhere near that standard.
Even applying that looser standard, I find only 19 players in history who have had comparable strings of nine consecutive years. All 19 of those players are Hall of Famers with the exceptions of Barry Bonds, Pete Rose and Manny Ramirez. Of note:
• Starting in his second season, Henry Aaron had 17 consecutive outstanding years (1955--71), and he started that streak at age 21, the same age that Albert was in his rookie season.
• Honus Wagner had 13 consecutive seasons (1900--12) that clearly meet Pujols's standard.
• Ty Cobb had 13 consecutive dominant seasons (1907--19). Cobb had some outages, some missed games, but on the other hand he was playing at an even more dominant level than Albert (relative to his time), so he's pretty close. I'd say 1914, when he hit .368 but played only 98 games, would be a problem for Cobb advocates.
• Lou Gehrig had 12 consecutive seasons, from 1926 though '37, that match up to Pujols's standard. Gehrig might actually be the closest historical parallel to Pujols, in that he was a first baseman and a power hitter.
Joe: Aaron is the gold standard when it comes to consistency. Pujols, though, is gaining. And that seems to be what drives him: to be great every year. He has never batted lower than .314. Never hit fewer than 32 homers. Never driven in fewer than 103 runs. His career low on-base percentage is .394—that's his low—and to give you an idea about that, Cal Ripken Jr., Ryne Sandberg, Ernie Banks, Lou Brock and Jim Rice never once had an on-base percentage that high.
But one thing about Pujols's career is that it's like a Rockettes performance at Radio City—great show, perfect rhythm, but no one thing stands out. Every season kicks precisely as high as the one next to it. That's why this year is so much fun: Pujols has an excellent shot at winning the first Triple Crown since 1967. It should be noted that in addition to his current Triple Crown stats, Pujols leads the league in runs, walks, on-base percentage, slugging percentage and total bases. The last to win the Triple Crown and lead the league in all the rest of that? Williams in 1947.