A pitching debut at 42 that somehow did not set a record
By Benjamin Hoffman
That Albert Pujols took the mound as a pitcher for the first time at age 42 and did not set a record is all you need to know about the depth of Major League Baseball’s record books.
There he was Sunday, a hulking first baseman in the waning days of his celebrated career, throwing 61 mph fastballs and 54 mph curves in the ninth inning to help close things out in a blowout win without taxing the St. Louis Cardinals bullpen. He was lit up by the San Francisco Giants to the tune of three hits (two of which were homers), a walk and four earned runs, yet he walked away with the title of second-oldest player to pitch for the first time since at least 1929.
Sorry, Albert, Lena Blackburne had you beat.
Despite the poor results and the lack of a superlative, Pujols, who blossomed into a much happier version of himself once he landed with the Los Angeles Dodgers last season and who seems to have carried that over in his return to St. Louis, was amused by the whole thing.
“A dream come true to say that I did it,” he told reporters. “It was fun. It wasn’t fun giving up two bombs. I think the fans had a good time. I’m sure the guys that took me deep did, too.”
At 42 years 119 days old, Pujols fell 106 days short of Blackburne, the manager of the Chicago White Sox, who inserted himself into a blowout in 1929 at 42 years 225 days old. Both were older than Satchel Paige, who got into an American League game for the first time at 42 years 2 days old in 1948 after having started his major league career in the Negro leagues in 1927.
At least Pujols can hang his hat on having hit 677 more home runs than Blackburne, a light-hitting infielder who was technically still a player-manager in 1929 but had appeared in only one other game since 1919.
Pujols’ appearance in the Cardinals’ 15-6 win was a hit on social media, and Evan Longoria of the Giants was so amused after advancing two runners with a single that he asked to have the ball retrieved for him. That’s a much better reception than Blackburne and the White Sox got in 1929 after a 17-2 loss to the Boston Red Sox.
The coverage in The New York Times was fairly minimal, but Irving Vaughan of The Chicago Tribune seemed absolutely disgusted with the White Sox in the next day’s paper. Vaughan, however, saved his anger for the team rather than the manager, who had warmed up in the dugout with the backup catcher Buck Crouse before heading out for mop-up duty.
“The White Sox are no longer comical; they are pathetic,” Vaughan wrote. “They reached this stage today when the tail end Boston club knocked them about like a flock of tin soldiers, a sight so irritating to Manager Lena Blackburne that he himself took up the pitching burden in the eighth to put a stop to the hitting riot that had gotten beyond the control of Dan Dugan.”
That Blackburne finished the game was something of a gift. He came in with two outs in the bottom of the eighth and promptly allowed a two-run single to Jack Rothrock, the only batter he faced. But Rothrock was thrown out trying to stretch it into a double — whether that was a gift to the White Sox was not discussed in the coverage at the time.
As for Pujols, it does not seem likely that he will take the mound again, despite technically having completed the task he was assigned by finishing the game without the use of another reliever — the gold standard of a position player pitching. And in a sport where things can get testy in issues of sportsmanship, both teams walked away without any accusations of violations of the unwritten rules.
The only victims in the matter were Adam Wainwright and Yadier Molina, who broke the major league record for most wins together as a battery — 203 to the 202 amassed by Warren Spahn and Del Crandall of the Braves from 1949 to 1963 — only to have their accomplishment somewhat overshadowed by a soft-tossing slugger.
Not to worry: Wainwright and Molina received a fairly gross celebration to honor the feat, with their teammates dousing them with almond milk and soda in the clubhouse.
“It’s a blessing that I get to do this with him for as long as we have,” Wainwright said of Molina, who has been with him for 311 games and counting.
With some luck, Wainwright, 40, could still be pitching when he reaches Pujols’ age. But he’d have to do it without Molina, who has said he will retire after this season.