I’d like you to think back about seven years ago, remember when everyone was hailing Alex Rodriguez as the modern hero of baseball.

Having finished the 2003 season with the Texas Rangers, everything was perfect in Rodriguez’s world; he was 28, had just collected his first of seemingly many MVPs and had become the youngest player in history to hit 300 home runs.

A-Rod was presumed by everyone to be the man to sweep through the record books bringing a clear, untainted image back to America’s favourite pastime and would see him retire as “the man who cleaned up baseball.”

Well, here we are seven years later, and I think it’s safe to say a lot has changed; in a recent poll conducted by this very website, A-Rod came in ninth in a poll of the most hated people in sports, just behind national villain Michael Vick.

Rodriguez has been fairly branded a cheat and a liar and has in no way helped his image in demanding a trade to the most hated franchise in American sport. It’s pretty clear that Alex Rodriguez is the most despised man in baseball.

Now at the other end of the scale, let’s look at one of the most beloved men in baseball, Albert Pujols.

Pujols doesn’t get booed when he plays away from Busch Stadium, he simply brings a smile and some of the best hitting statistics the game has ever seen.

Pujols preaches religion and work ethic as keys to his success. The most popular athlete in St. Louis—unlike Rodriguez and New York—Pujols earned the approval of most of America by merely stating that he didn’t like hitting in Yankee stadium, and that’s before you factor in the Rookie of The Year Award, nine All-Star Appearances, three Silver Slugger Awards, three MVPs, a Gold Glove, World Series ring, clutch playoff hitting, robotic consistency and the whispers of a triple crown now becoming as familiar to August as August is to a calendar, plus when can you honestly say you last heard someone say “that Albert Pujols… I just don’t like him”.

This year has been deemed by some a down year for Pujols; however, a down year for Pujols is a career year for everyone else:

Thus far in recline, Pujols leads the NL in home runs and RBI and is 10 points short of the lead in average; not bad, huh?

Albert is well on his way to hitting .300, 30 home runs and 100 RBI for the 10th year in a row, separating himself from the great Lou Gehrig as the only man to ever achieve the feat, and all in the first 10 years of his career.

At the age of 30, Pujols is now two long balls short of 400 and is almost certain to follow A-Rod to 500, 600, and maybe 700, and even 800.

If Pujols were to break Bonds’ or Rodriguez’s home run record, he would receive extra praise, credibility and respect for reaching the milestone the correct way, giving him a huge advantage in arguments comparing him to the likes of Bonds, Sammy Sosa, Rodriguez, Mark McGwire and Manny Ramirez with no question over his numbers, no asterisk next to his name. Pujols would be a first ballot Hall of Famer, one of the three greatest hitters to have ever lived and the man who legitimately brought credibility and integrity back to the game.

And even if Pujols were to fall short in his his home run chase, people would look at him and Ken Griffey Jr. as honest, clean, yet still, great hitters with their reputations intact.

Pujols would be seen as a great all-round player with an incredible talent to hit in all forms, as opposed to his adversaries who are seen as athletes whose obsessive lust for home run power has seen them defraud the government and public.

Albert Pujols has a great opportunity to become one of the greatest and most loved players in baseball history and the indiscretions of those who’ve gone before him may only to the legacy of the greatest hitter of his generation.  

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