Padding Time

Way back when I was a little kid, my grandfather, who was by trade a tenant farmer, got a job as a gravedigger. It was far enough back that you still used a shovel to dig the grave. He worked on an hourly wage scale, but sometimes they had to work overtime. They didn’t have overtime wages at the cemetery where he put in his time, so if the crew had to work late the owners would allow them to take a day off when their overtime hours reached eight. So, of course, if there was a grave to be dug late in the day, they’d move a little slower and manage to go an hour over. The crew called it “padding time.”

Baseball has that, sort of. One of the all-time greats, Albert Pujols, is doing “padding time” now. He’s a shadow of his former all-star self. He’s still a decent player, but nothing like what we saw 10 years ago when he was the greatest first baseman I’d ever seen. Right now he’s simply “padding” his career stats and moving up the list on a lot of statistical charts. Currently he’s tied with Jimmie Foxx for 22nd in runs scored, 27th in hits (less than 20 from Rod Carew), 11th in doubles (three from David Ortiz), seventh in home runs all of four behind Ken Griffey, within shouting distance of Lou Gehrig and sixth on the RBI list (and Barry Bonds is only one RB beyond Gehrig), and eighth in total bases (a long way from Pete Rose in seventh).

Now that’s not a knock on Pujols. He’s a great player who is the “padding time” mode and it’s not the first time a player’s done that. Rose, to some extent, did it when trying to pass Ty Cobb in hits.  There’s nothing either immoral or illegal about it and it’s well within baseball’s acceptable traditions.

But it comes with a built-in problem. There are a lot of fans, most of them in California, who will know and remember Pujols only as a nice ball player and not recall the wonderful athlete that became arguably the second greatest St. Louis Cardinals player ever (behind Stan Musial). And that’s a shame. It’s not Pujols fault so much as it’s the fault of the fans, but nonetheless it is bound to happen.

I think that part of the aura that surrounds players like Ted Williams and Sandy Koufax is that there is no “padding time” for either of them, or at least not much with Williams. He’d been falling off for a few years, but there was no collapse into mediocrity for “Teddy Ballgame” and the last homer in the last at bat is the stuff of legends. For Koufax, there’s no long slow decline as his curve doesn’t and is fastball isn’t. For those who saw both and can watch the film of both, there’s no watching a great become a former great. Barry Sanders is like that in football, as is Jim Brown.

It’s kind of painful to watch, but I wouldn’t trade getting to see Pujols, even at half the player he was, perform.

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7 Responses to “Padding Time”

  1. rjkitch13 Says:

    I like your article, V, but I would like to kindly disagree that Pujols is a decent player nowadays. That’s way overrating a man who can’t field, can’t run, can’t get on base, and can’t hit for power, except for an occasional home run. It’s not his fault the Angels gave him such a long contract and of course if you’re paying a man over $20 million a year, you have to put him in the lineup. I watch the Angels more than any team and I cringe whenever I see him batting. Keep up the good work!

  2. Miller Says:

    Right on target here. I think we’ve talked about this phenomenon in the past. And it is sad, especially, as you note, for Angel fans. Young ones. Looks like another win for Father Time.

  3. Jackie, The Baseball Bloggess Says:

    I feel so conflicted because … burning up the Angels’ AAA in Salt Lake and biding his time is first baseman Matt Thaiss who I watched “grow up” at Virginia and I so want him to get his chance. So, I have these moments when I think, “Step aside, old man Pujols and let the young man have his time.” and I feel really bad about that … Time just moves so fast …

  4. Steve Myers Says:

    I hadn’t paid too much attention to Pujols since he vacated the NL Central and no longer played against the Brewers. I can’t remember if he wreaked havoc against them? But then again, there probably wasn’t an NL team he didn’t wreak havoc against. His stance is forever stuck in my mind, that chopping at air before the pitch arrived, horrifying.

    You raise an interesting point v, this padding factor. Makes me wonder if there is a metric that values when a player hit most of his doubles, home runs, or whatever. Did he do it earlier in his career over a short stretch or later in his career over a longer period of time?

  5. wkkortas Says:

    If you look at Williams’ 1960 Strat-O-Matic card, you’d wonder why anyone would pitch to him. Not too shabby for a 40-something.

  6. Steve Myers Says:

    v, The Williams swan song seems even more amazing in that he wasn’t forced out because of injury.

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