The greatest right-handed hitting pair in MLB history? Ranking Pujols-Miggy vs. Aaron-Mays and more

  • Sports reporter, Kansas City Star, 2002-09
  • Writer, Baseball, Baseball Prospectus
  • Co-author, Pro Basketball Prospectus
  • Member, Baseball Writers Association of America
  • Member, Professional Basketball Writers Association

It was June 20, 2003. MLB still sought to make interleague play a kind of in-season showcase on the schedule, so all but one of the 14 matchups on the slate were AL vs. NL rivalries. The Anaheim Angels, Florida Marlins and Tampa Bay Devil Rays were still existing brands, as were the Montreal Expos. Jackson Holliday, the first pick of this year’s draft, had not yet been born.

In other words, it was a pretty long time ago. That night in St. Louis, Albert Pujols struggled, going 0-for-5 against a surprising Kansas City Royals team. No worries: That off-night against K.C. dropped Pujols’ season average to .376.

Meanwhile, at Pro Player Stadium in Miami, touted 20-year-old masher Miguel Cabrera was making his MLB debut. After starting his career by going 0-for-4, Cabrera stepped to the plate against Devil Rays reliever Al Levine in the 11th inning of a 1-1 game. He sent a drive to straightaway center. Devil Rays center fielder Rocco Baldelli turned and gave chase, but the drive cleared the wall, ending the game and setting in motion a celebratory mob around Cabrera at home plate. A star was born.

A lot has changed since then, in baseball and elsewhere. But with Cabrera rolling off the IL on Monday and stroking an RBI single in his first at-bat in Baltimore, both he and Pujols are still with us, doing their thing. While they’re not what they once were, both have the stature of stars headed to the Hall of Fame.

Both have enjoyed a kind of split season in 2022. While Cabrera enjoyed a solid first half, injuries flared up and his numbers began to sink, a dynamic that has marked the twilight of his career. Meanwhile, Pujols started slowly but his second-half explosion has miraculously put him on track to reach 700 career homers and he has become one of the iconic storylines of the season. Twenty seasons into their time together in the majors, Cabrera and Pujols are still attracting our attention.

Alas, the Pujols-Cabrera era is entering its final stretch. The Tigers’ season will end on Oct. 5. While Pujols will play into October with the playoff-bound Cardinals, when his season ends, so will his career. And when the 2023 season begins, for the first time since June 19, 2003, Pujols and Cabrera will no longer be active at the same time.

It’s tempting to compare these two, but why? Pujols has higher counting totals than Cabrera but percentage-wise, it’s a virtual wash. Pujols has a career 144 OPS+, just ahead of Cabrera’s 142. They are true historical peers. They are both among the best ever, as two of the five right-handed hitters to surpass both the 3,000-hit and 500-homer milestones. Rather than comparing them to each other, perhaps we should focus on thinking of them in tandem as an acknowledgment of how privileged we have been to see both of them in action at the same time for so long.

So where does the Pujols-Cabrera era, featuring two of the best right-handed hitters in history, rank among such historical tandems? Are these the two most prolific concurrent righty hitters in baseball’s annals?

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