Pujols, Soto, Rodrìguez, and the Continuation of Dominican Baseball Excellence

We need to talk about Albert Pujols and the legacy he’s leaving behind.

On Monday, a 42-year-old Albert Pujols participated in the Home Run derby as an all-star weekend swan song. Earlier this year, Pujols returned to the St. Louis Cardinals on a one-year deal for his final season, and while many people thought Pujols’ inclusion in the derby was a gimmick, he actually advanced to the second round.

In case Pujols time with the star-studded but lowly Angels organization made you forget, this is one of the best baseball players we’ve ever seen.

Albert Pujols is a three-time MVP, two-time World Series champion, two-time golden glove winner, 11-time all-star, is fifth all-time in home runs, tenth all-time in hits, and  third all-time in runs batted in. 

Albert Pujols Introduced as a reserve player in his final All Star game (via MLB.com)

While I’m not like some stuffy baseball gatekeepers who turn their back on the players of the steroid era, it’s definitely worth noting that Pujols accomplished all this in the era of strict PED testing.

What I want to talk about most though is the fact that Pujols has set the stage for Dominican born baseball players to do exactly what he did- stand on the shoulders of giants and ultimately surpass them. Albert Pujols started his first all star game alongside Dominican legends like Manny Ramirez, Sammy Sosa and Vladimir Guerrero. 

On Monday, it was a pair of young Dominican superstars in Juan Soto and Julio Rodríguez that grabbed the torch from Pujols and showed that the future of baseball is bright. Soto, at just 23 years old, is in the process of captivating the nation with both his play on the field, and a stratospheric contract negotiation with the Washington Nationals that saw him turn down a $440 million contract.

Pujols made sure to let anyone that was listening know that he believes Juan Soto is a future Hall of Famer. Soto’s response? “He’s gonna make me cry.”

Julio Rodríguez, who finished second in the home run derby, but hit over 80 home runs in the contest, was awarded $50,000 more for finishing as runner up ($750,000) than he’ll make on the entire season ($700,000).

The 21-year old Rodríguez said of Pujols, “He’s a legend. It’s amazing that I’m here sharing the stage with him.”

Well Julio, the stage is now yours.  And the next generation of baseball fans, and children in the Dominican Republic, are watching. Time for you and Juan Soto to do what Albert did for you.

The MLB Home Run Derby Could Be a Stand-Alone Sporting Event

MLB Home run derby MLB All star game

If you missed this year’s rendition of the Home Run Derby, the premier pre- MLB All-Star game event, then you missed one hell of a ride. Two rookies, Pete Alonso (Mets) and Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. (Blue Jays), put on an absolute show, blasting home runs left and right and shattering previous derby records.

Of course, for the first time, the derby actually had a massive prize: a cool $1,000,000. Even to professional athletes, that’s a lot of cash.

However, because of baseball’s archaic rules that prevent rookies from getting paid big money until six years into the league, this year’s winner, Pete Alonso, only has a salary of $555,000 this year. His performance in the derby ended up earning him double what he will get paid for the rest of the season with the Mets – even though he is an All-Star and potential MVP candidate.

This begs an interesting question, that was originally discussed on the Effectively Wild Podcast: Could the home run derby survive as its own ‘sport’? After all, watching players blast home runs off pitches right down the middle during a timed event is completely unlike real baseball. The only similarity is the equipment and the field – both things that could be altered in a theoretical new league.

Who Would Participate?

Would people pay to see players participate in a home run derby on a regular basis? Hard to say. Clearly, a startup league would struggle to pull professional players from the major leagues into a new derby league. So the talent level probably wouldn’t be there right away. There are certainly plenty of recently retired players or players who didn’t make the major leagues – but who had serious home run power – who could probably excel in a sport dedicated exclusively to hitting dingers.

If the league could get guys like Jose Canseco, Adam Dunn, Chris Carter, David Wright, and the Barry Bonds types to come out of retirement to blast some home runs, perhaps fans would tune it on a semi-regular basis. And with a cash prize, it’s not impossible to think some of these guys would do it.

Other Home Run Derby Innovations

However, eventually, people would get bored watching the same event over and over, even if they were attached to the performers. But what about having a derby on a football field? Over a lake? In the Grand Canyon? These are pretty ridiculous ideas, but if enough fans showed up and cared about watching, maybe they could pull this off.

Fans have proven that the best part about sports is watching people hit or throw a ball as far as possible. The home run in baseball, the three-pointer in basketball, hail mary’s in football, long goals in soccer, whatever it is, humans tend to love their feats of strength.

A sport dedicated to the home run derby probably wouldn’t survive, but the concept is there if they found the right people and the right gimmicks to make it last without the MLB All-Star game.