Although Earnhardt retired from full-time driving after the 2017 Cup Series season, he announced — in a very low-key way — that he’ll compete Aug. 31 in the Xfinity Series race at Darlington.He made the announcement as part of a thread that started with a tweet from Joe Gibbs Racing about Martin Truex Jr.’s paint scheme. Blink as Twitter River rolled by and you may have missed Dale Earnhardt Jr. announce Friday that he’ll be in the driver’s seat for a NASCAR race in 2019.And he’ll do it at an iconic track. Related News Dale Earnhardt Sr.’s 100-foot yacht now for sale Come to @TooToughToTame this year. I’m running the @XfinityRacing race.— Dale Earnhardt Jr. (@DaleJr) February 1, 2019Earnhardt drove an Xfinity race in September 2018 at Richmond, finishing fourth in the No. 88 Chevrolet for JR Motorsports. But he’s an analyst for NBC’s NASCAR coverage now.He explained his decision to run this year at Darlington Raceway to NBC Sports: “(I’m) running it because of the throwback campaign they started there. I want to be part of it. I think it’s important.”Earnhardt also said he has a “cool throwback” planned for that race, details will come later.
The ovation for Albert Pujols on Friday night will be loud, and it will be lengthy. Make no mistake about that. The future Hall of Famer became a baseball legend in his 11 seasons with the Cardinals. And even though this is his eighth year with the Angels, it will be a bit surreal to see him take the Busch Stadium field wearing a uniform that doesn’t have two crested red birds sitting on a bat, even if the new threads still include a shade of red. MORE: Home run pushes Pujols past Babe Ruth among all-time RBI leadersIt’s true Pujols didn’t leave St. Louis on the best of terms. He spurned an offer from the Cardinals that was reportedly worth north of $200 million to take Los Angeles of Anaheim’s 10-year, $240 million offer after the 2011 season — a little more than a month after Pujols helped lead the Cardinals to their second World Series title during his tenure. Things were said. Feelings were hurt.That was a long time ago, though: water under the bridge. Even with his baseball address in California, Pujols has remained active in St. Louis with his various, generous charity activities. And when he’s announced over the Busch Stadium public address system, the fans in the ballpark — and those watching on TVs/iPads/smartphones across the St. Louis region — will stand and cheer for what happened in those 11 seasons, not the agreement signed on Dec. 8, 2011. And what he did during those 11 seasons was nothing short of amazing. Historic. Epic, even.In five years at Busch Stadium II — from 2001-05 — Pujols hit .334 with a 1.045 OPS in front of Cardinals fans. In six years at Busch Stadium III — 2006-11 — Pujols hit .333 with a 1.048 OPS. In 74 playoff games for the Cardinals, Pujols hit .330 with a 1.046 OPS, 18 homers and 52 RBIs. One of those home runs (and three of the RBIs) came on a crushed two-out home run against Brad Lidge in the 2005 NLCS that will live forever in franchise lore.Speaking of lore, the legend of Pujols often includes an anecdote that he got his shot in the majors because of a 2001 spring injury to Bobby Bonilla, a hamstring misfortune that launched a Hall of Fame career. It’s a fun story to tell, if not entirely true.Tony La Russa, the Cardinals’ manager in that era, gave Sporting News the real story during a conversation last year.“Albert’s spring was so impressive that he was going to make the team anyway,” La Russa said. “You just couldn’t keep him off of it. The only criteria that Walt Jocketty (the general manager at the time) said at that point was, ‘Look, we all know he’s got a great future. You can take him on the club if there’s enough at-bats for him to get work. But if he’s going to be a bench player, he’s going to be better off developing in Triple-A.’”I thought there would be a way, because he was so versatile and played so many positions, so the way we left it was that we’d start the season like that and at some point, after a couple weeks, Walt could say, ‘Look, he’s not getting enough work. We’ve got to send him out.’ But he wanted to give us a chance to keep him busy. And Bobby’s injury helped a little bit, but Bobby was going to be a pinch hitter deluxe, just give him enough work to keep his pinch-hitting skills sharp, maybe start him a game a week or something. The truth is, Albert did make the team with that qualification.”There. All cleared up.MORE: Attempts to low-ball fan who caught Pujols homer are embarrassingPujols hit .370 with eight homers, 27 RBIs and a 1.171 OPS in his first month in the majors — starting games at third base and first base, and in left field and right field — and never really slowed down. He finished that first season with 37 homers, 130 RBIs, a .329 average, a 1.013 OPS and 6.6 bWAR. He was the easy NL Rookie of the Year winner — even though Roy Oswalt and Jimmy Rollins were outstanding, too — and finished fourth in the NL MVP voting. To be eligible for the Hall of Fame, a player has to have at least 10 years in the big leagues. By the end of his 10th year, Pujols was a lock for Cooperstown, even if he had retired immediately. Let’s look at a couple historical numbers up, shall we? Pujols had seven seasons with at least 37 home runs and a batting average of .327 or better. Only one player in MLB history can match that: Babe Ruth, who had 10 such seasons. The only other Hall of Famers close to Pujols include Lou Gehrig and Jimmie Foxx (six each), Barry Bonds (five) and Ted Williams (four, though missing five years of his prime for military service kept him from ranking higher on this list).Pujols had seven consecutive seasons with a bWAR of 8.4 or higher. Willie Mays is the only other player in MLB history with that many seasons in a row.In his 11 years with the Cardinals, Pujols hit .328 with a 1.037 OPS and 445 home runs in 1,705 games. He averaged 40 homers, 41 doubles, 121 RBIs and 117 runs scored each season he wore a St. Louis uniform. He won three NL MVP awards — and had seven other top-five finishes, including second four times — and helped lead his team to two World Series titles.When I spoke with La Russa, I asked him where Pujols ranks in MLB history.“One of the things I learned, and I’m religious about it, I learned never to disrespect other hitters, other pitchers, other generations,” La Russa said diplomatically. “The impossibility of seriously ranking who is first, second, third, it’s impossible and disrespectful. To me, you put Albert in the conversation with the greatest baseball players — and I mean overall, because of what he was as a defensive player, a baserunner and a teammate, cheerleading and as a leader — I put him in the conversation about the greatest ballplayers of all time, without having to say, ‘He’s better than this guy or not better than this other guy.'”And then La Russa told me Reggie Jackson taught him that approach. He would know.MORE: Fan decides to give up historic Pujols ball, but he doesn’t want it nowPujols isn’t the same player he was for the Cardinals, but you knew that. He has still been able to hit the ball a long way on a regular basis; he has exactly 200 home runs in his time with the Angels (1,047 games). That number probably stacks up better than you’d think among his peers. Only 12 players have more in that same time frame (2012-present).For comparison’s sake, Edwin Encarnacion leads that list at 289 homers. Mike Trout, who played his first full season with Pujols and the Angels in 2012, has 257. Paul Goldschmidt, who played his first full season in 2012, too, has 215 homers. Bryce Harper, who made his MLB debut in 2012 (139 games), has 196 in that stretch.He has also remained very good at two other things: making contact and driving in runners. Since 2012, 80 players have appeared in at least 900 games, and 70 have struck out more in that stretch than Pujols, who has 536 strikeouts in an Angels uniform. Even this year, his age-39 season, only nine of 156 qualified batters have a lower strikeout percentage Pujols’ 11.7 percent. And, sure, RBIs are a flawed statistic, but only three players have more than Pujols’ 692 RBIs since 2012: Encarnacion (815), Nelson Cruz (722) and Goldschmidt (714). That is, admittedly, cherry-picking the things he still does well. His overall impact is way down. In his 11 seasons in St. Louis, Pujols averaged a 7.9 bWAR. In his seven full seasons with the Angels, he has averaged 1.9, and his 2019 number is 0.2, which ranks 10th among Angels hitters and 19th overall on the squad.But that’s not why Pujols will be serenaded with cheers Friday evening in St. Louis. The fans in attendance — and those watching on screens — will be thanking him for the 11 unforgettable seasons wearing a Cardinals uniform.As they should.