I never thought I’d write a post about Albert Pujols, because I find him boring. Everything about him is boring. He’s a great player, the best of his generation – but he’s so great that he crosses over into predictability. And he doesn’t have a charismatic or interesting personality to make up for it. Albert may approach Babe Ruth’s numbers, but not his vivacity.
So this isn’t a post about Albert Pujols. It’s a post about Tony LaRussa.
The deadline Pujols set for a contract extension with the Cardinals has passed. If we take Albert at his word, he will now play out the season and become one of the most coveted free agents in baseball history.
The Cardinals want and need their star to accept a hometown discount, but they may be overplaying their hand.
According to Ken Rosenthal, the Cardinals offered Pujols a contract that would have paid him the 10th highest average annual salary in the game. 10th! That’s not a negotiating stance, that’s a slap in the face to the one player your organization absolutely cannot lose. Pujols is going to be the highest-paid player in baseball; the only question is by how much. Any offer that disregards that basic fact is only going to widen the gap between the two sides.
If Pujols is going to remain a Cardinal, he’s clearly going to have to swallow some of his pride and accept a contract that offers less than he’s worth. And the Cardinals are going to have to enter the world of reality and stop dicking around. Well, Tony LaRussa has something to say about all this.
LaRussa claims the MLBPA has “beat up” Pujols about his decision, pressuring Big Al to take the money and run, and abandon all those sweet, innocent Cardinals fans. Among LaRussa’s bon mots:
“[The union pressure] is bull—-. That’s not the way it should be.”
“I’m just saying I think it diminishes the other factors that a player looks at. … I think each negotiation should be based on what’s the best decision — taking everything into account, not taking one thing into account.”
“[It’s] not just arm-twisting. It’s dropping an anvil on your back through the roof of your house.”
“I’ve had a number of players over the years who took the [most] money, and they’ve regretted it later.”
Tony LaRussa, of course, has no stake in this at all, and has a completely unbiased view of the proceedings.
Give me a fucking break.
LaRussa is being disingenuous and self-serving at best, and actively evil at worst. There are two main problems with LaRussa’s take:
1) He pretends that he’s not just as invested as the union in Pujols’s contract. Imagine the 2012 Cardinals without Albert Pujols. Because that’s what haunts LaRussa late at night when he tries to sleep. He doesn’t want to end his career managing a 65-win team. For him to imply that taking less money to stay with St. Louis is what Pujols truly wants, and the evil union is interfering with his better angels, well that’s just stupid. Pujols has the right to seek as much money as he possibly can. And LaRussa wants Albert as his first basemen just as much as Albert’s agent wants him to get a $300 million deal. LaRussa talks like he’s on Pujols’s side, but he’s really on his own side.
2) He pretends that, if indeed the union is pressuring Pujols, that there’s something wrong with that. Because of the insane amount of money involved, it’s easy to forget that baseball’s labor battles boil down to workforce vs. management, just like any other union fighting for money and freedom — auto workers, steel workers, pilots. Baseball’s powers that be attempt to subtly influence public opinion by reminding us of the millions and millions of dollars players earn, while actively covering up the overwhelming wealth of owners and franchises.
Tony LaRussa wants you to side with management. He wants you to side with oppression and lack of choice. He wants you to side with the owners of the 1950s and ’60s, who did everything possible to deny players the most basic of labor rights.
Of course the MLBPA wants Pujols to sign a big contract. If he settles for less than market value, that decision influences every other free agent contract extension for the next few years. Players as a collective will make less. And owners worth billions will have more to stuff in their pockets. Baseball players make a shitload of money, yes; but in essence, they represent us. Their battles are our battles. I’ll side with millionaires over billionaires every damn time. Tony LaRussa has basically come out and said he stands with the billionaires.
I’m also sick of LaRussa, Cardinals players and the media playing up the notion of St. Louis as some kind of baseball Utopia, with the most wonderful, supportive sports fans in the world. Tony implies that it’s inconceivable Pujols would possibly want to leave that paradise for all the riches in the world. It’s bullshit. I’ve been to Cardinals games, and their fans are like any other moderately passionate baseball fans. Their fans can’t match the intensity or passion of fans from Boston, New York or Chicago – but St. Louis doesn’t have the reactionary, negative sports media of those cities, so it has garnered a reputation as wonderland where no one ever boos and reporters don’t ask the tough questions.
And have you ever noticed that the Cardinals players who express their undying love for the Gateway City and its fans are almost always white? Jim Edmonds, Mark McGwire, David Eckstein, Skip Schumacher – they can never imagine playing anywhere else. St. Louis is an incredibly segregated city with a large African-American population, yet its baseball fan base is almost exclusively white. Let’s just say I could understand if Albert Pujols didn’t love St. Louis the same way Jason Isringhausen did.
I hope that on opening day 2012, Albert Pujols is wearing the white and blue of the Dodgers, or the hideous blue and orange of the Mets. Not because I want those teams to do well, but because I want Tony LaRussa to suffer.