For the first time since Albert Pujols broke the hearts of St.Louis Cardinals fans and signed with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, we hear from Tony La Russa. The former Cardinals manager makes some of the same points we here at SRI and others have made regarding the Cardinals just not being able to afford Pujols any longer.
At the end of the day the Cardinals had to make a smart financial decision and from the sound it couldn’t even afford Pujols on a discount. Tony La Russa joined KNBR in San Francisco with Gary and Larry to talk about not being caught off guard regarding Albert Pujols signing with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, the St. Louis Cardinals being wrong for not trying harder to retain Pujols, if he thinks Albert Pujols ever seriously considered taking a discount to stay with the Cardinals, Pujols being a class act on and off the field, and if he expects Pujols to be booed in St.Louis when he next returns to play at Busch Stadium.
Did Albert Pujols catch you off guard ending up in Anaheim?
“No, I think it was a reasonable progression in the sense that it was such a big challenge financially for the Cardinals as well as if you are wrong your organization really suffers. You just can’t afford to make a mistake like that.”
Could you be wrong on a guy like that though?
“The only way you could be wrong is that on the number of years you pay that kind of money. Say in the last half of the contract you are paying $20 something million and a player is worth half that much that’s…only the really rich clubs can absorb that kind of [financial hit]…the Yankees can do it and about three or four clubs. The Cardinals we spent $100 million dollars. So there is nobody poor mouthing, but I think in the end it was a really tough challenge for them, so they really didn’t send Albert a strong message that if there is a big market that we can compete. I think the Angels came in and swooped him up. I just think the Cardinals understood they couldn’t afford him. Sometimes you gotta make that kind of decision.”
Is the whole move as cold as the Angels paid him more money and that’s why Albert Pujols left?
“I’ve been really vocal about this. I know he signed during the winter meetings or a few days later. I happened to be in St.Louis, so I had a chance to throw my two cents in. The fans were really upset with him. There’s still a lot of negativity to it. It really didn’t come – he made a P.R. mistake when he said it wasn’t about the money because you can’t say that because if the Angels and Cardinals offered the same amount of money he’d have gone to St.Louis. Money is a factor. The point that I am making and I really believe – I know it is true – Albert was ready to give the Cardinals a tremendous and significant home discount. I am talking about signing for something like $60 or $65 million less than he signed for. That’s a lot of money he would have walked away from, but even at that level the Cardinals could not have swung it and felt like they were taking care of the franchise, so I think in the end when he realized I can’t get a deal here. They can’t afford a deal here that is reasonable then he went for the pot at the end of the rainbow and that’s a lot of money: $254 million or whatever they signed him for.”
Did Albert ever try to big time you?
“He was absolutely as close to perfect as you could expect a player to be for 11 years. I will tell you why: He never really changed the basic way he came to work, which was: I am going to play the game to win. At the end I am going to look and see what the numbers were. He did not chase the stats. He did not chase the money. He would go out there and say ‘Hey I got 4 at-bats.’ If you watched him play defense, if you watched him run the bases, he was always aware of the score. He was delightful. Once and awhile he may have a difference of opinion. I always encourage our guys to challenge anything that I do otherwise you guys are not robots out there.
This way you learn and I learn. We would have a discussion and never did he ever disappoint me. I tell you the one point I am making. I challenge anyone to see this too often. If you see his clips you’ll see a lot of times in this historic comeback and the underdog World Series where we were doing something late to win a game and Albert sometimes wasn’t on the field. You look in the dugout. He was the number one cheerleader and he did this for 11 years. Even if he had 0-for-4 or 0-for-3 days, Albert was on the top step totally engrossed in a game and you can’t fake that kind of enthusiasm where he is cheering, he is pulling, he is suffering. I am just telling you this guy is a golden person on-and-off the field. I was never disappointed by him. Right now like I told the Cardinals fans pull for him unless he is playing your team in the World Series, then pull against him. Other than that pull for him.”
Do you think he will be booed in St.Louis?
“They don’t play in. I think by the time it happens I think people will understand – people like myself are going to speak up and try to explain don’t blame the Cardinals. Don’t blame Albert. It’s just the system. I don’t think they will boo him.”