Tony La Russa sounds off on union

Updated: February 16, 2011, 9:46 AM ET
By Jayson Stark | ESPN.com

JUPITER, Fla. -- St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said Tuesday that he believes the Major League Baseball Players Association is attempting to "beat up" Albert Pujols and his agent in an attempt to get Pujols to sign a record-setting contract.

And that, La Russa said emphatically, "is bull----. That's not the way it should be."

The way it should be, La Russa contended, is that a player in Pujols' position should "look at all the factors. ... It shouldn't just be the most money."

"I'm not saying that if I was a union representative I would do it differently," the manager said. "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."

But because the union sees Pujols as a player who can raise the salary bar, he's under more pressure than your average player, La Russa said.

This sort of pressure has gone on for years, with many high-profile players, La Russa went on. But in Pujols' case, he said, this was "not just arm-twisting. It's dropping an anvil on your back through the roof of your house."

La Russa said he had no specific evidence that Pujols was being pressured by the players' union. But he said his many years in the game have made that "a guaranteed assumption. It's gone on since I started managing. And I don't think they'd deny it."

La Russa [This is] not just arm-twisting. It's dropping an anvil on your back through the roof of your house.

-- Tony La Russa on pressure Albert Pujols is feeling from union

Reached later in the day Tuesday, Michael Weiner, the executive director of the players' union, said: "The truth is we've had no conversations with Albert or Danny [Lozano, Pujols' agent] or anybody on Albert's behalf about the numbers in this negotiation. None.

"It's never been the union's policy to pressure players and certainly it's never been the union's policy to pressure players because they have to set the bar for other players."

Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak said Monday that the deadline to reach a contract agreement with Pujols is noon ET Wednesday.

Meanwhile, according to SI.com, St. Louis made a last-ditch $200-million-plus, eight-year offer for Pujols on Tuesday, still far short of the $275 million contract extension Alex Rodriguez received from the Yankees three years ago. But sources close to the negotiations told ESPN.com that there has been no offer made by the Cardinals, and also confirmed that Pujols now will not arrive at camp until Thursday.

Pitcher Adam Wainwright, who spent three seasons as the Cardinals' player representative, said the union's job is to make as much money as possible for the players.

"At the end of the day you have to do what's right for you and your family," Wainwright said. "The union I think understands that. Their job is to make sure we get the most that we can. That's what they're paid to do and that's what we pay them to do and that's why we need them."

When it was pointed out to La Russa that one of this offseason's most high-profile free agents, Cliff Lee, just took fewer total dollars to sign with the Phillies instead of the Yankees or Rangers, the manager conceded: "It does happen, from time to time."

But it's rare, he said.

"I've used Dennis Eckersley as the example back in Oakland," he said. "He signed three deals and just got blistered, because he took less money, just because he was really liking pitching in Oakland."

Asked why Pujols wouldn't be the kind of guy capable of making a similar decision, La Russa replied: "I think Albert is very smart and very strong, and he's going to make a good decision. I'm just saying I regret some of the pressure he's feeling trying to make a decision. It's tough enough as it is."

And then the manager had a warning, not just for Pujols but, in a sense, for all players who might consider leaving a team with which they're happy, comfortable and successful because there might be bigger dollars to chase elsewhere.

"I've had a number of players over the years who took the [most] money," La Russa said, "and they've regretted it later."

Senior writer Jayson Stark covers Major League Baseball for ESPN.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

Jayson Stark | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com

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