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Friday, July 4
Updated: July 6, 7:36 PM ET
Pujols still has much to prove

By Ray Ratto
Special to

Cheap controversy is always where you find it. Finding it, of course, is the trick.

All that having been said, we take you now to the cheap talker of the day -- Barry Bonds' less-than-utterly-glowing review of fellow All-Star and new Flavor of the Month Albert Pujols.

Albert Pujols
Albert Pujols has been a hit so far in his young career, but he's still got much to prove before being measured with the game's greats like Barry Bonds.
Now those who have known Bonds know how little he enjoys these "What do you think of ...?" interviews. And those who know him even slightly more than that know that he isn't big on bestowing superlatives before their time.

After all, he has played 17 years, and he's seen sure-as-shooting-Hall-Of-Famers come, and woulda-been-sure-as-shooting-Hall-Of-Famers go. Thus, he remains leery of young stars, at least now that he is no longer one himself.

Older folks, you see, have a healthier respect for simple, tooth-gritting, rub-some-dirt-on-it-you-big-girl's-blouse endurance than the young'uns, and Bonds hasn't been a young'un for a good five years now.

So when he was asked his opinion of Pujols, the early leader for National League Most Valuable Player, Bonds pointed out that he's done just fine -- so far.

It's the "so far" part that will be remembered, though, because Bonds speaks of other players, when he deigns to speak of them at all, in specifics when people are interested in generalizations.

So it had to be with Pujols, who is either 24 or 28, depending on how cynically you view his birth certificate. His numbers (.378 batting average, 75 runs, 76 RBI, 119 hits, 24 homers through Thursday) are certainly shiny enough, and Lord knows he got plenty of notoriety when his manager, Tony La Russa, called him the best player he has ever managed.

But Bonds has seen this before, in Ken Griffey Jr. and Larry Walker, in Albert Belle and Gary Sheffield, in Chipper Jones and Frank Thomas, and a couple dozen other candidates over his time.

And Bonds, who knows an argument only he can win when he poses it, has pointed out that the true test of time is the test of time.

The test of time means never having a bad year, or getting hurt, or playing on a hopeless team. The test of time means matching Bonds, in short, and with the singular exceptions of Babe Ruth and Willie Mays, nobody has. There are great players you can put up against Bonds for the sake of a good argument (Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio, Stan Musial, Henry Aaron, Lyle Overbay ... sorry, just wanted to see if you were paying attention), but there are only two he hasn't equaled.

Thus, his argument that Pujols is awfully good, "so far," is one that is a) accurate, and b) based on a bar that no 24/28-year-old could clear, because 24/28-year-olds only have "so far" on their resumes.

You see, Bonds didn't say that Pujols stinks, or that he is overrated, or that he can't yet be considered truly great because he doesn't have an established position.

Bobby Bonilla
Once was Hall of Fame-bound, Bobby Bonilla struggled through the latter part of his career.
Well, actually, he did say that last one. Bonds compared Pujols in that way to Bobby Bonilla, to be precise.

And that, we're betting, is what this conversation mangled into, with just the right amount of care and feeding.

Bonds, you see, is not the guy to go to for the unqualified superlative, and those who find Pujols to be the game's most sublime player are not going to take this well. Bonds can defend everything he said based on the facts, but the tone it will be given will make it seem like Bonds has dismissed Pujols as ... well, sort of a grander version of Will Clark.

Clark, you may remember, started his career at the dead run, and after four years was considered a shoo-in for Cooperstown. He hit, and he hit with power, and he fielded his position adeptly. He didn't run very well, and he was a first baseman so his arm never really came into play, but he could rake, and he did.

But he never really made that great start his base-line year, as the greatest of players did. He became an above-average player with a long resume, but not a Hall of Famer.

Pujols is still at the stage where he could be anyone he strives to be. Aaron, perhaps, or Mike Schmidt, or Musial, or Ernie Banks, or any number of other players. He could also be Clark, or Belle, or even Bonilla.

So maybe it was a trick question all along, or maybe one designed just to get Bonds to not gush about a contemporary, or maybe it was a question without an answer.

Whatever, we know at least this. It was one man's opinion, and we are not a society that likes to hear the opinions of others. What we like is to have others give our opinions back to us.

Besides, we know that Albert Pujols looks a lot like what we thought David Justice was going to be. Kind of. Maybe. Sort of. Ya know.

Ray Ratto is a columnist with the San Francisco Chronicle and a regular contributor to

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