After only six seasons, Pujols an all-time great

The Baltimore Sun

St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols is good, real good. Not exactly breaking news there.

But Pujols seems to be taken for granted these days, with some ignoring just how impressive his young career has been.

Pujols, in his sixth big league season, is just 26. He's two months younger than Philadelphia Phillies slugger Ryan Howard, who is in his first full year in the majors. Some have speculated that Pujols is older than his birth certificate denotes, but he always has denied those unfounded claims.

So let's put aside "chronological age," as former Orioles vice president Syd Thrift once called it, and instead add a little historical focus to what Pujols has done so far.

He is the only player to place in the top five in his league's Most Valuable Player voting in his first five seasons, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

As a rookie, he finished fourth, his worst finish. He has two seconds, a third and was the 2005 MVP.

Even if Howard or New York Mets outfielder Carlos Beltran jumps ahead of him this year, Pujols certainly will finish in the top three.

Here's some perspective for that particular run of consistency: Barry Bonds, seven-time NL MVP winner, has twice placed in the top five for five consecutive years. But he has never done it six straight years.

And here's another: Hall of Famer Frank Robinson, a two-time MVP winner, finished in the top five six times in his splendid career.

Farewell, F. Robinson?

With his club in the National League East basement, new ownership in place and a contract that expires at season's end, Robinson, the Washington Nationals manager, soon could be out of a big league dugout.

The 71-year-old said he still wants to manage but would be content if this was the end of his 51 years in baseball.

Robinson, who seldom gets wistful, said he would like a farewell ceremony if this is the end - his playing career ended while he was manager of the Cleveland Indians. And he'd like to have it in Washington.

"I've never had anything like some players get. And I think it would mean more for me here because it's near Baltimore," Robinson said. "I think the fans understand what I did there, and there are Orioles fans who have become Nationals fans and appreciate what I did. I just think I would like to say goodbye to them."

All natural

As the Phillies' Howard closes in on 60 homers, he naturally has been asked about performance-enhancing drugs. The 6-foot-4, 252-pound first baseman came up through the minors while steroid testing was under way and has never failed a test. But in this steroids-crazy era, prodigious sluggers will be scrutinized, perhaps unfairly. That annoys Howard, but he deals with it.

"People are entitled to their opinions," Howard said. "But it does bother me. It casts a shadow on the game. I know I'm not using steroids. ... I thought about it once and then it was like, 'Well, whatever. I'm not doing it.' "

Quick hits

In his career, Chicago Cubs first baseman Derrek Lee has five homers and 13 RBIs on Sept. 6, his birthday. ... Call this one revenge: St. Louis infielder Aaron Miles, who broke up Washington's Ramon Ortiz's no-hit bid in the ninth inning Monday, was the final out in Ortiz's no-hitter for the Single-A Cedar Rapids Kernels in 1997.

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