ANAHEIM — Angel Stadium was 10,000 spectators short of a capacity crowd despite the potential historical significance of Wednesday night’s game against the Atlanta Braves.
It provided concrete proof for the notion that Albert Pujols‘ methodical pursuit of 600 home runs has generated relatively scant attention.
“The stadium was not packed last night — was not packed,” Street said, referencing a Tuesday night when Pujols lifted career home run No. 599. “There was a time when that would have never happened.”
Maybe it’s another byproduct of the steroid era, which inflated home-run totals and stripped so much of the fascination from accomplishments like these. Maybe it’s that Pujols never likes to talk about himself, or that he’s so far removed from his prime, or that Mike Trout has long been overshadowing him on his own team. Maybe we no longer care enough about things like this.
“I think the game has shifted to youth,” Street said. “In a way, I think it’s smart business. And in a way, someone like an Albert Pujols needs to be celebrated. And I think a lot of it has to do with the distraction of society. There’s so many portals of entertainment now, not just baseball.”
The Angels moved back to .500 for the sixth time in two weeks. But Pujols went 1-for-4 with a strikeout, a couple of groundouts and only a bloop single, which gave him 2,874 career hits and moved him past Babe Ruth on the all-time list.
Pujols is batting .254, with eight home runs, 38 RBIs and a .712 OPS that is topped by 125 other qualified players. But Street doesn’t believe that tells the whole story.
“I think the biggest thing that Albert probably doesn’t get enough credit for is how often he’s playing through something — a sore hamstring, a bad ankle, something,” Street said. “Let’s be clear: He’s next-level tough.”
Mike Scioscia, entering the midway point of his 18th season as the Angels’ manager, calls Pujols “the toughest player I have ever managed.” Trout underwent thumb surgery earlier on Wednesday and could be out through the All-Star break. And it is in times like these when Scioscia senses a heightened sense of urgency in Pujols.
“He takes it on,” Scioscia said. “He does not want to be out of the lineup. If he had a scheduled day off and something happens, he comes in and says, ‘Hey, I’m playing. I want to play. I feel good.’ “
With his next home run, Pujols will become the ninth player to belt 600 and the fourth-youngest to get there, behind only Ruth, Alex Rodriguez and Hank Aaron. His first 10 years with the St. Louis Cardinals — with at least a .300 batting average, 30 home runs and 100 RBIs in each season — instantly made him a first-ballot Hall of Famer and put him on track for numbers that won’t be matched in a very long time.
Pujols is 37, but is under contract for four more seasons after this one.
He’s only 145 RBIs away from 2,000.
He’s only 126 hits away from 3,000.
He’s only 101 home runs away from 700, which, if he plays through his deal, would require averaging just over 20 home runs from 2017 to ’21.
Only Aaron ever reached all three of those milestones.
“It’s like you’re watching, in real time, a master polish off his masterpiece,” Street said. “And I think that, to me, is why I enjoy it so much.”
But it doesn’t seem like the rest of society feels the same. The announced attendance for Wednesday’s game was 35,795, which was actually 53 fewer than Angel Stadium’s average heading into it. The Angels estimated that they handed out five or six more credentials than they would for a typical game, but the media presence wasn’t anywhere near what a number like 600 warrants.
Street wanted to try to put that number in perspective.
“God bless Mike Trout; I love Mike Trout,” he said. “It’s 350 homers until he hits 600.”
Actually, Trout is 416 home runs away from 600, which only strengthens Street’s point.
“He’s the best player in the world right now, Mike Trout, but he has to hit  more, and he just had thumb surgery,” Street said. “Things happen. And that’s the beauty of what Albert has been able to accomplish. Because you have to remember that guys get to those numbers through tremendous amounts of will, sacrifice … loads of pain, all sorts of distraction, family issues, life issues. It is a body of work that, when he hits 600, and I expect he will, and when he hits 700, which he very well could, these are moments of, like, masterpiece, almost.”