Albert Pujols leads the majors in happiness. I hope he knows this. He can’t see the smiling faces that are home, watching from their chairs, jumping from their chairs, each time he swings the bat and sends another baseball into the place where the bleachers border heaven.

He plays before enormous crowds, with enthralled fans standing at attention, mesmerized by the moment and the possibility of witnessing another flight of a  baseball traveling into the annals. He can’t see all of the people, let alone greet them all, but he absorbs their energy. And he reciprocates.

“Greatness is a spiritual connection,” wrote Matthew Arnold, the English poet.

Somehow, and I know this doesn’t make sense, but we can see his power and then feel his power. You may be having a turndown day, sad inside, or mad at the world … and then Pujols taps the umpire’s shin with his bat, greets the catcher, nods at the pitcher, and burrows into the batter’s box. At that instant you can forget all of your troubles. The happiness instantly fills you.

We can count to 700, but it is impossible to count the number of people that have been emotionally touched, deeply moved, and left euphoric by Albert’s amazing feats. His return to St. Louis is a total triumph. This has been such a good time … a special and gratifying gift from a good man.

Pujols delivered again, profoundly so, on Friday night in the classic American ballpark in Los Angeles. On a clear, stage–lit evening at Dodger Stadium, Pujols flexed his shoulders, extended his thick arms, and barreled pitches for career home runs No. 699 and 700.

The 700 Fraternity now has four members: Barry Bonds, Henry Aaron, Babe Ruth and Pujols. But there is an inner circle, a separate club, and only two men may enter.

It is an exclusive space, reserved for the only hitters in the history of major-league baseball that have amassed at least 700 homers, 3,000 hits and 2,000 runs batted in.



It gives me chills. As a teen growing up near Baltimore, I worked at my grandparents’ store and saved money to go to baseball games. In 1976 I bought the most expensive seat at Memorial Stadium, and sat alone, three rows behind Milwaukee’s dugout. I was there for one reason: to see Hank Aaron play in person for the first time. The next night I came back, bought another ticket, and watched him work from a different vantage point: a few rows from the field, and directly facing him as he stood in the batter’s box. It was Aaron’s final season. He was finishing up with the Brewers, having returned to the home base and the site of his first 12 major-league seasons until the Milwaukee Braves franchise moved to Atlanta in 1966.

When I saw Aaron play, he was 42 years old and in his 23rd and final season. His power had faded, but his eminent presence remained in full. I was thrilled to be there, intently watching the all-time home run leader from close-up range. I can still see that image in my mind. I will never forget it.

Pujols took me back there.

I got emotional Friday night, watching Pujols from the comfort of my home, the TV set flickering and flashing in the peaceful darkness. The two home runs reentered the earth’s atmosphere and landed in the left-field bleachers. Those no-doubt home runs were everything we wanted them to be: kingly, sublime, and sumptuous. The two heroic homers produced five RBI and sent the Cardinals on their way to a 11-0 win over the mighty Dodgers.

I’m a 63 year old man now, long removed from those two nights at the ballpark in Baltimore as the excited kid who was eager to spend 90 minutes on a bus to get to the stadium to pay my respects to Henry Aaron. On Friday night – 47 years later – the feelings were the same. That’s why I’m so delighted by the idea of Aaron and Pujols standing shoulder-to-shoulder forever in history.

The Season of Pujols has moved me in ways that I did not anticipate.

I’ve been drenched by a flood of memories. Friday night I thought about being there in the press box in Arizona for Pujols’ first career homer on April 6, 2001. It was the fifth inning, with Armando Reynoso pitching.

Pujols blasted No. 1 into the left-field seats.

It’s just crazy for me to think back on that first home run and realize that Pujols would do this 699 more times and enter the pantheon of his profession.

This is the kind of player who comes along once every 50+ years, and the astonishing largeness of his career is overwhelming. And just knowing that I was there – for so many days in so many ballparks and cities – to chronicle Pujols through his first 11 seasons in St. Louis … well, this is also overpowering. It’s the top-level career highlight. And here we are, doing it again in 2022. And I’m taking it all in, with a sense of wonder, as the star of Pujols rises higher and brighter than ever before.

I’m lucky. You are lucky. We are all so fortunate.

I was 41 years old when Pujols arrived in the majors back in 2001. The summer before, late in the 2000 season, I sat in manager Tony La Russa’s office. General manager Walt Jocketty was telling TLR about how excited he was by the head-turning performance of a 20-year-old prospect who had been selected in the 13th round, No. 402 overall, in the 1999 MLB Draft.

I asked Walt: “When will the kid get here?”

Jocketty’s response: “He’ll be here soon enough. And he’ll be here for a long time.”

The following spring, 2001, I stood behind the cage with La Russa to watch the young Pujols take batting practice. I’ve told this story before but it never gets stale for me. Pujols was bombing baseballs and striking the Marlins’ office building beyond the left-field wall. Each time La Russa would whistle, grunt, or make primal sounds. Tony knew. He absolutely knew. This rookie would change everything — the franchise, the lives of the manager and the GM and his teammates. And the rookie would take Cardinal fans on an incredible journey. The lengthy detour to Anaheim was a downer, but No. 5 returned. And that’s all that matters now.

The spring of 2001 was also the time when Mark McGwire – preparing for what would become his last major-league season – calmly predicted that Pujols would become a baseball Hall of Famer.

This was before Pujols played a regular-season MLB game. And Albert only made the opening-day roster because of Bobby Bonilla’s hamstring injury.


I can’t mention them all or you’d have to spend 25 hours reading this column. But some that stand out for me are being there at Coors Field for his first game – and Stan Musial unexpectedly showing up in Denver, as if to pass the torch of greatness to the rookie. The first home run, off Reynoso. His MVP seasons in 2005, 2008 and 2009 – and dammit, he deserved to win two or three more.

There was the infamous Brad Lidge home run in Game 5 of the 2005 NLCS. Sitting there in the press box in Houston with my friend and colleague, the late, great Bryan Burwell, we had just filed our deadline columns in a rush … Cardinals lose, season over … when Pujols sent one over the railroad tracks above left field to save the day. We both laughed, rather hysterically, because the home run was so grand and preposterous. Pujols made us rewrite what we had written – and we had only 15, 20 minutes to author an entirely new column.

There was the three-homer game at Texas in Game 5 of the 2011 series … the way Pujols opened the new Busch Stadium with a barrage of homers in 2006 … his take-that-big-boy home run off Kerry Wood at Wrigley Field …

Opening day in Philadelphia in 2006. I walked into the clubhouse. Pujols smiled and called me Papi. I thought something was wrong with him. I asked, “You feeling OK?” He laughed and said, “I feel GREAT. This is gonna be a great season.” Pujols went out and destroyed the Phillies with two homers, two walks, three runs and four RBIs in a 13-5 blastoff win for a St. Louis team that would end the baseball year celebrating their World Series title in a championship parade.

I wish I had kept handwritten notes on all of these memories.

Heck, a couple of my favorite memories had to do with Pujols being sore at me over something I’d written and letting me know about it. The intensity and edge were components of his excellence. That look in his eyes is the closest I’ll ever be to knowing what it’s like to be a major-league pitcher and having this imposing man staring and glaring at you.

Thank you, Albert.

It’s been a privilege for me to spend the last 22 years writing about Pujols, talking about Pujols, observing Pujols, and sharing my thoughts on Pujols with so many of you.

The strong emotions that have risen within me during the Season of Pujols are understandable.

And beautiful.

I’m older now, and perhaps beginning to wind down in a career that I love. And it isn’t always easy to write; these columns take time. Too much time on some days. But I’m still as fired up as ever to write. I’m still grinding. I got into this business to see greatness and put it into words. Pujols has come through time and time again. Since July 10 of this season he’s homered an average of every 9.4 at-bats. That’s cuckoo — and so marvelously entertaining. We’re all motivated by this, right?

Watching the Pujols spectacle has made me realize how blessed I’ve been to do this for so long, and to have the opportunity to witness so many great teams and athletes in the sports world. This is a personal opinion, but none have stood taller or inspired me more than Albert Pujols. In his final tour, he’s leading the majors in happiness.

And he’s made this old sportswriter feel young again.

Just as Pujols is young again, leading the Cardinals to another postseason.

As the poet wrote: greatness is a spiritual condition.

Thanks for reading …


Bernie Miklasz
Bernie Miklasz

For the last 35 years Bernie Miklasz has entertained, enlightened, and connected with generations of St. Louis sports fans.

While best known for his voice as the lead sports columnist at the Post-Dispatch for 26 years, Bernie has also written for The Athletic, Dallas Morning News and Baltimore News American. Bernie has hosted radio shows in St. Louis, Dallas, Baltimore and Washington D.C.

Bernie, his wife Kirsten and their cats reside in the Skinker-DeBaliviere neighborhood of St. Louis.