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The machine. Prince Albert. Fat Albert. Phat Albert.

Albert Pujols goes by many nicknames, and in the era of the pharmaceutical long-ball, should be dubbed “The Natural II.”

He has been hitting 450 foot home runs since age 16 and has frightened pitchers and managers alike since he set foot in a batter’s box. He was recently voted baseball’s most feared hitter.

Pujols has yet to total less than 32 home runs in a season and just notched his 30th round-tripper of 2009 this week. He has only two more strikeouts (32) than home runs, and sans back-story would be a prime suspect for drugging.

To counter any notion that he could possibly be doping is Pujols’ track record. He has put up similar numbers at every level, from high school to the majors; and has done so through use of nothing more than extreme discipline.

Pujols ended his high school career with over a .500 batting average, and in his first game at Maple Woods Community College managed to both hit a grand slam and turn an unassisted triple play. Scouts eyed the wonder-child, but were still hesitant in drafting him. Pujols slipped to the 13th round of the 1999 M.L.B. Draft. This is rumored to have been the result of a poor tryout with Tampa Bay

The scout who reported being unimpressed resigned. Good call.

The St. Louis Cardinals, who took Pujols with the draft’s 402nd overall pick, offered a $10,000 bonus. He declined and chose to instead join Kansas’ Jayhawk League, an independent association for post-collegiate players. The Cardinals’ management quickly upped their ante to $70,000, Pujols agreed, and he was sent to their single A-affiliate, the Peoria Chiefs.

In Peoria, Pujols quickly became a star, earning the Midwest League’s MVP title. He progressed through the St. Louis farm system ranks and was called up in 2001 after then-third-baseman Bobby Bonilla injured his hamstring. He never looked back.

In his rookie campaign the man they call The Machine ran away with R.O.Y. honors, posting a gaudy .329 batting average, launching 37 home runs, and batting in 130 runs, all the while collecting a chump-change $200,000 salary. He has since been voted to 7 All-Star Games, won two MVP awards, and added a Gold Glove for good measure.

His career .334 batting average is the tops among active players and his 349 home runs (through 7/1) put him at a hall of fame pace for his career. His consistency is unparalleled. And not to be ignored, his loyalty to the Cardinals’ organization is something to take note of and admire.

Flatly put, if Albert Pujols ever tests positive for drugs, I will not watch another baseball game. As far as I am concerned, he is this generation’s Ken Griffey Jr. A lone clean talent in a sport polluted by cheaters.

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