Pujols eyeing more than NL MVP

Pujols eyeing more than NL MVP

ST. LOUIS -- In one year, Albert Pujols will have played long enough to be eventually considered for baseball's Hall of Fame. On Tuesday, he may go a long way toward punching his ticket for induction.

Pujols, already recognized as the game's best player, will be looking to join some elite company on Tuesday afternoon. He's an overwhelming favorite to win the National League Most Valuable Player Award, as voted on by the Baseball Writers' Association of America.

It would be Pujols' third MVP, and that would mark him as part of a special, hushed-tones group. Only nine players in baseball history have won the MVP three or more times. Every one of those players who is eligible is in the Hall of Fame.

And they're not fringe Hall of Famers, either. They're inner-circle greats. The seven players with three MVPs are Yogi Berra, Roy Campanella, Joe DiMaggio, Jimmie Foxx, Mickey Mantle, Stan Musial and Mike Schmidt. The two who aren't in the Hall are Alex Rodriguez and Barry Bonds, stars whose performance at least is unquestionably Hall-worthy.

Now Pujols is looking to join them, and it's hard to imagine that he won't. He would be the fifth player to be a three-time NL MVP. The Cardinal is making the transition from a great of his time to a great of all-time.

"I don't like to compare myself with any of those guys," Pujols said late in the season when asked about taking his place in history. "I respect those guys and what they did, what they accomplished. Don't get me wrong. I'm blessed to be named in the same category as those guys. But those guys are Hall of Famers and they deserve every respect."

The reigning MVP already, Pujols enjoyed what may have been his finest season at the plate in 2009. He batted .327 with a .443 on-base percentage, a .658 slugging percentage, 47 home runs and 135 RBIs. Moreover, he did it for a division champion.

Pujols led the NL in on-base, slugging, homers and runs (124). He ranked second with 45 doubles, third with a career-high 115 walks, third with 135 RBIs and sixth with 186 hits. He won his fifth Silver Slugger Award.

Hanley Ramirez and Chase Utley had fine seasons, but Pujols furthered his already compelling case as the National League's best player.

Pujols could provide a celebratory cap for what has been an awards season full of close finishes, but disappointment for the Cardinals. Colby Rasmus received one point in the Rookie of the Year balloting, Tony La Russa finished second for Manager of the Year and Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright finished second and third, respectively, for the Cy Young.

Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.