When Barack Obama threw out the ceremonial first pitch at the 2009 All-Star Game in St. Louis, he leaned on a Hall-of-Famer and a future one. Albert Pujols, then the Cardinals star, dug out and tried to frame a low pitch that Willie Mays helped the former President prepare for.
Obama brought Mays along on the trip to St. Louis, fulfilling a dream for one of the greatest athletes in this country's history.
"I must say, when Barack got elected, one of the things I thought of was, 'I'd love to ride on Air Force One,' " Mays wrote in a biography he released with John Shea earlier this year. "Not that I thought it'd happen. Then it did, and I couldn't believe it."
As Mays rode Air Force One for the first time, Obama asked for advice on throwing out the first pitch. Mays told him to follow through.
Eleven years later, Mays and Pujols are linked on the baseball field once again. With a two-run home run in the eighth inning against the Colorado Rockies on Sunday, Pujols, now 40 and a Los Angeles Angel, tied Mays for fifth on the all-time home run list with 660.
This is a moment to celebrate Pujols, who put together one of the best runs the game has ever seen while a Cardinal and has tacked on 215 more homers in nine years in Los Angeles. He's one of the all-time great hitters, and Cooperstown is his next stop.
But every milestone like this one is also a reminder that we should never forget Mays' greatness.
Mays and Pujols are remarkably similar in some respects when it comes to offensive production. Mays hit his 660 homers in 2,992 games and 10,881 at-bats. Pujols is at 2,854 games and 10,805 at-bats.
Mays finished his career with a .302 average, .384 on-base percentage and .557 slugging percentage. Pujols is right there with him, with a .299/.378/547 slash line.
They have been similarly productive at the plate, but what separates Mays from Pujols, and just about everyone else who has ever played the game, is everything else Mays did between the lines. That's seen in their Wins Above Replacement, with Mays ranking third all-time among hitters at 156 and Pujols far behind at 101.
Mays did all of that at the plate while playing center field better than anyone ever has, and while Pujols did win two Gold Gloves at first, he has lasted this long in part by playing an easier position and adding more than 500 games at DH. Mays was also the superior baserunner, although Pujols deserves credit for being sneaky-good for a slugger his size.
Pujols in his prime was a complete player, and one day soon that'll put him in Cooperstown with Mays. The two are once again connected, just as they were at the 2009 MLB All-Star Game.
That flight, by the way, lived up to every expectation Mays had, but it might have been even more impactful for everyone else on the flight, including the president.
"Very rarely when I'm on Air Force one am I the second most important guy on there," Obama said, per Mays' and Shea's book. "Everybody was just passing me by (asking) 'Can I get you something, Mr. Mays?"