(In addition to appearing at The Captain’s Blog, this post is also being syndicated at TheYankeeAnalysts.)
By going 0-5 with three double plays, Albert Pujols turned in one of the most forgettable Opening Days in major league history, which means it will likely be remembered for a long time.
Worst Opening Day Performances, 1957-2011
RE24 is defined as the number of runs that batter contributed during a game based on the base/out situations during his plate appearances.
Source: baseball-reference.com and (*)fangraphs.com
Despite being only one game of 162, events that take place on Opening Day seem to have a much longer shelf life, especially when the player’s ability contrasts sharply with his performance. For example, 493 players have hit three homeruns in a game, including some of the game’s best all-time players. However, if you ask most baseball fans to rattle off a few names from the list, Karl “Tuffy” Rhodes is likely to mentioned, even before the likes of Willie Mays, Lou Gehrig and Mike Schmidt (who all hit four). Rhodes wasn’t the only improbable player to go deep three times in a game (Otto Velez, Tony Solaita, and Jeff Treadway all did it), nor was he the only man to accomplish the feat on Opening Day (George Bell and Dmitri Young also hit a game one trifecta*). However, Rhodes was the only forgettable player to record this memorable accomplishment in his team’s first game, a combination that has given him a slice of immortality.
*Interestingly, Bell, Rhodes and Young all accomplished the feat on the same date, April 4, in 1988, 1994, and 2005, respectively.
Unfortunately for Pujols, his 2011 opener falls on the other side of history. The Cardinals’ slugger isn’t the first person to hit into three double plays. In fact, almost 100 have. However, Pujols is the first to do it on Opening Day. If he was a lesser player, this poor timing would eventually be forgotten, but because of his historic stature, yesterday’s futility will likely remain a trivial footnote on his great career. If his sense of humor is as good as Joe Torre‘s, who credited Felix Milan with helping him ground into four double plays (a major league record), Pujols could point out that his “achievement” wouldn’t have been possible without Colby Rasmus, who was forced at second each time.
Pujols’ lackluster opener has been magnified even more because of his contract situation. After turning down a $200 million-plus deal in the offseason, the Cardinals’ first baseman is now on a collision course with free agency, leading to inevitable speculation about how the slugger and the team will be affected by the situation. Following yesterday’s epic failure, however, what figured to be a developing story has now blossomed into the season’s first overreaction as columns examining Pujols’ state of mind have already started to surface.
It seems silly to use one very bad game as justification for a psychoanalysis of the game’s best player, but Pujols has to be prepared for such speculation. In the past, the all-time great has bristled a bit when exposed to scrutiny outside of his cocoon in St. Louis. Should he suffer a prolonged slump, it would be interesting to see how the future Hall of Famer reacts to the mounting questions about his contract. Of course, the chances of him falling into one are probably just as low as hitting into three double plays, so it’s likely we won’t get the chance to observe his response. All the same, you can bet Pujols will be hoping for a big game on Saturday so he can begin to laugh at his ignominious Opening Day…and start giving Rasmus the credit he deserves.