Pujols, SI daring me to believe again.
Problem is, though, that many, many others whom I've wanted to believe have let me down.
Alex Rodriguez, Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Rafael Palmeiro, Rick Ankiel (especially Rick Ankiel), Jason Giambi and a host of others.
Four years after the strike of 1994 McGwire and Sosa gave the game a much-needed power boost, injecting (perhaps not the best word) the game with 136 home runs of fan-drawing power. Their chase captivated a nation. Moreover, their chase captivated me. I still have the sports pages from The Oregonian chronicling both men's assault on the record books.
McGwire finished with 70, and it seemed that was that. Maris had been annihilated. No one, it seemed would come close to challenging McGwire's mark for a very long time.
In 2001 came Bonds, then BALCO, and ultimately, burden for baseball.
Another phenomenon hit the landscape in 2001. Pujols, after a largely uncelebrated amateur career and one whizbang season in the minor leagues, introduced himself to America in stunning, nearly unprecedented fashion.
That year Pujols hit .329/.410/1.023 with 47 doubles, 37 home runs and 130 RsBI. Since then, Pujols has had no dropoff. None.
For the last eight seasons, Pujols has been a model of consistency. He's never hit lower than .314, never OBPed lower than .394, never struck out more than 93 times (and after his rookie season, never more than 69 times), never hit fewer than 32 home runs.
He's been almost too good. I watched A-Rod do the same thing, albeit with many more strikeouts. The Yankees third baseman, too, was a model of consistency and frankly, it got my hopes up. I wanted someone to destroy Bonds' tainted record, and I thought it was possible without steroids.
I mean, Hank Aaron hit 755 without juicing, why couldn't someone else? Why not A-Rod?
Of course, February and March came around and Selena Roberts and David Epstein blew the lid off A-Rod's big secret, exposing him as a cheat just like all the rest.
So now, with Pujols, the question is always in the back of my mind: Is he for real?
Then yesterday, waiting for me in my mailbox was the most recent issue of Sports Illustrated, with a cover story about Pujols by the always-excellent Joe Posnanski, explaining to me exactly why I should believe.
The story was detailed, emotional, and above all, believable. It showcased the slugger's interminable will to be the best (just as this story did in 2006) and his overpowering love of service. It painted him as a truly great human, someone kids can finally look up to and hope to one day emulate.
Pujols and Posnanski certainly swayed my opinion, but not fully. The damage of the last 11 years will not be easily undone. A few more years without any severe peaks or valleys (or positive tests) from the Redbirds' most recent slugging first baseman, though, would go a long, long way toward the cause.