It spoke volumes about the character of Albert Pujols when he volunteered to play third base Sunday after regular third sacker David Freese's hand was broken by a pitch.
Make no mistake that a lot of major leaguers wouldn't volunteer to play out of position simply out of fear that they might be embarassed. And third base is a tough position to play. You're the closest guy to the hitter in fair territory to the hitter besides the pitcher. You're in a spot where a righthanded hitter who really gets ahold of a ball and pulls it is going to hit a rocket at you. And what if you have to field a bunt?
But that's not the real gesture Pujols made when he offered to play third base.
Let's not forget that Pujols has a damaged ligament in his thowing elbow. So now he's put himself in a place where he has to throw the ball -- hard -- all the way across the diamond to do his job. Standing on the brink of a contract in the hundreds of millions of dollars, Pujols cared more about helping his team on one day then he did about the fact that the next throw he made could be his last for a year and a half if he snapped that elbow ligament.
Of course, Pujols playing third base reminded me of what might have been had he stuck with the position he last played in 2002.
Pujols' reign as the greatest player in baseball was questioned last week in large part because of the position he played. So what if Albert has re-written the record book with 10 consecutive seasons of hitting better than .300 with 30 homers and 100 RBIs? He's a first baseman and first basemen are expected to be great hitters.
Well, Pujols was a darn good third baseman before he was moved to first to ultimately accomodate Scott Rolen in the St. Louis line-up. While there are lots of slugging first basemen in the Hall of Fame you can count the number of elite sluggers who were also elite defenders at third base on one hand. Should he be punished because of the position he plays?
While it was a thrill to see Pujols back at the hot corner, I think I held my breath the entire time he played there for fear of his being injured. But it was a great reminder of just how wonderful a player he is -- regardless of the position he plays.