Albert Pujols finally hit a home run for the Angels on Sunday, 27 games and 110 at-bats into his career in Anaheim. A drought like this is noteworthy for baseball’s best hitter, let alone a guy trying desperately to justify his new $240 million contract.
It’s also noteworthy for his teammates. So noteworthy, in fact, that they took to celebration in a unique, yet very traditional, fashion.
When a player achieves a noteworthy “first”—usually the player is a rookie, and usually the event in question is his first career home run—his teammates will occasionally freeze him out, sitting on the bench as if nothing eventful has happened before leaping up en masse to congratulate him. Detroit’s Will Rhymes earned such a response after his first career round-tripper in 2010.
Pujols is hardly a rookie, but his blast was sufficient to earn special treatment from teammate Torii Hunter. While the slugger was rounding the bases before a rapturous crowd at Angel Stadium, Hunter quickly herded everybody on the bench—including teammates, manager Mike Scioscia, the trainers and the entire coaching staff—into the tunnel leading to the clubhouse. Pujols received congratulations at the plate from Mike Trout, who had been on base, and the on-deck and in-the-hole hitters, Kendrys Morales and Mark Trumbo, but when he returned to the dugout he found nothing but empty paper cups and the possible tumbleweed. (Watch it here.)
“I thought that would be cool,” said Hunter in an Associated Press report. “I always wanted to do that, and it worked. I just said, ‘Let’s get off the bench and go to the tunnel.’ He was excited about it and we were, too. We had to think fast. When I have a day off, man, I do stupid stuff.”
It worked because Pujols was delighted. It worked because the superstar made a beeline for the tunnel and jovially extracted his teammates, who proceeded to mob him. It worked because it gave the scuffling Angels a rare moment of genuine levity on the field.
If that seems like a bit much to celebrate he 446th career homer for the best player in baseball, Pujols has nothing on Don Drysdale. In 1959, the Hall of Fame pitcher was at the beginning of a long road trip with the Dodgers, in the dining room of the Chase Park-Plaza Hotel in St. Louis, when he received word of the birth of his daughter, Kelly. He took the call not far from the table he had been sharing with Pee Wee Reese, Gil Hodges and Don Zimmer, and felt certain that his teammates had overheard the good news. Yet when he went back to join them, Drysdale encountered nothing but baseball talk, nothing but Dodgers and the previous night’s box scores. Like Pujols, Drysdale was no rookie (this was his fourth season), but like Pujols it didn’t matter.
It wasn’t quite the same as hiding in a ballpark tunnel, but it worked. Before long, of course, his teammates cracked and congratulations became the order of the day.