Ever since Honus Wagner and Ty Cobb clashed in Pittsburgh for the 1909 World Series, there almost always has been a Splendid Splinter to rival every Joltin' Joe. A Mays for every Mantle. Even when Mark McGwire was injecting himself into the great home-run chase, he had a swingman in Sammy Sosa.

Really, has anyone beyond the Babe ever stood alone above the game?

Baseball is played in threes but celebrated in twos. Two pennants, two MVPs, two Cy Youngs and so on. In the NFL, there's never room for two best quarterbacks. In the NHL, there's never an end to debates of Sidney Crosby vs. flavor of the month. Baseball, maybe because of its two parallel worlds, has never felt the need to anoint that one best player.


Albert Pujols has been the planet's best — and yes, purest — hitter over the past decade. But he's a shadow of himself these days, batting .195 with a solitary home run and 11 RBI in his first 33 games since signing the $250 million mega-deal to join the Los Angeles Angels. On this soggy Saturday at The Ballpark in Arlington, where only months earlier he was carrying his St. Louis Cardinals to World Series glory, he singled and walked — his first since April 25 — but mostly grimaced.

The big man looks mortal, if not mortally wounded.