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BenFred: ESPN's Max Kellerman swings and misses on Albert Pujols takedown attempt

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St. Louis Cardinals beat Chicago Cubs 2-0 Sunday

The Cardinals' Albert Pujols rounds the bases after hitting a two-run homer off the Cubs' Brandon Hughes in the eighth inning of a game on Sept. 4, 2022, at Busch Stadium. It was the 695th homer of his career.

In today’s 10 a.m. video, columnist Ben Hochman discusses the Cardinals’ legendary duo of Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright on the day of their record-breaking 325th start together. And, as always, Hochman picks a random St. Louis Cards card from the hat. Ten Hochman is presented by Window Nation!

Who said what?

That was my reaction Tuesday afternoon upon learning the Cardinals were irked by some garbage leaking out of ESPN.

The who was talking head Max Kellerman, who is pretty good on boxing and not so good on everything else.

The what was Kellerman insinuating on Monday’s episode of “This Just In” that Albert Pujols’ chase for 700 career home runs could be fueled by foul play.

Kellerman went down the all-time home run list, ripping Barry Bonds (762) for using performance-enhancing drugs while praising Henry Aaron (755) and Babe Ruth (714) for playing clean.

Then he got to Pujols (697).

“It is amazing how Pujols, who was in steady decline for years, suddenly, it’s like he discovered the fountain of youth!” said Kellerman sarcastically.

“I don’t know how he’s doing it,” he continued. “Oh my God, the bat speed, everything, he’s killing the ball! Matter of fact, bartender, I’ll have whatever he’s having! I mean, this is unbelievable. He sure has turned back the clock. I just wonder if there was anything that could be pointed to. How does a player turn back the clock like this? I guess it’s willpower and practice. All these years between then and now, he hasn’t been practicing, apparently.”

Welcome to 2022, when the network once viewed as the go-to place for sports shells out staggering salaries for takes that border on Barstool plagiarism.

No facts? No evidence? No reporting? No problem!

(Fortunately, ESPN has some real journalists who cover baseball very well. I imagine this embarrassed them.)

Baseball’s steroid era was propelled by PED use that went mostly uncovered until the cat scurried out of the bag, so it’s only right and natural to assume every player who does something impressive — especially if it’s an older player — is a cheater, right?

Wrong.

Kellerman learned.

His sarcasm was gone Tuesday, when he apologized for his remarks about Pujols.

“Yesterday on ‘This Just In’ we showed video of Albert Pujols as he chases 700 home runs,” Kellerman said Tuesday on his show. “I commented that he seemed to be hitting the ball much better than he has in a long time. Some, including Albert, inferred that my curiosity as to how he was achieving this recent level of success could only mean that he was benefiting from something other than a lot of hard work, practice and his natural ability. For that, I apologize to Albert and the Cardinals organization.”

Wrong again, actually.

Pujols said nothing about the show.

The Cardinals and Major League Baseball did voice their displeasure.

Pujols has come out swinging against evidence-less accusations before. Former Cardinals slugger Jack Clark in 2014 issued a public retraction after Pujols threatened a lawsuit against Clark for claiming during a radio show that Pujols, “was a juicer.” Pujols dropped the lawsuit after Clark’s apology and retraction.

Look, any person who insists they know what players do and don’t do over the course of their entire careers is kidding themselves. Admitting that does not imply anything other than common sense. That doesn’t mean throwing around baseless claims should be tolerated. Especially from professionals and networks who should know better.

What we do know is that Pujols always has promoted himself as a player who plays clean, and proudly so. We know baseball has developed the strictest drug testing policy in all of professional sports and that Pujols has spent nearly 75% of his 22-season career playing in these heightened testing times. He’s never once been popped for a positive test for a banned substance. He’s never been linked to foul play, at least by anyone who didn’t almost immediately apologize. A future first-ballot Hall of Famer who could be a unanimous pick for Cooperstown when his time comes risking his entire reputation for one final season as a part-time player would be a pretty insane decision, wouldn’t it?

We have now spent more time thinking about this than Kellerman apparently did. His rush to retreat proved that. Strikeout. Back to the dugout.

There are times when baseball fans wish ESPN would spend more time on baseball. There are other times when ESPN makes baseball fans glad it doesn’t. When Pujols hits home run No. 700, what do you want to bet ESPN comes rushing in, roses in hand?

Sports columnists Ben Frederickson and Jeff Gordon discuss the Cardinals' chances -- real, or happy talk? -- of running down the Mets and Braves.

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