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Tony La Russa to the union: Leave Albert Pujols alone!

Feb 15, 2011, 1:06 PM EDT

La Russa closeup

He didn’t quite put it that way, but that was the gist.  Here’s La Russa lamenting what he believes to be the union strong-arming Albert Pujols into trying to get as much money as possible:

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” …

… 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.”

He goes on to say how bad it is that players look to get the highest salary they can get and how there are more important considerations than that. “I’ve had a number of players over the years who took the [most] money,” La Russa said, “and they’ve regretted it later.”

We’ve heard this stuff before, but not quite as starkly as La Russa puts it.  For what it’s worth, I think that, contrary to the way La Russa says it, the union would deny that they put pressure on Pujols. At least not any undue pressure.  They have no actual leverage over him.  What, exactly, can they do to Pujols other than to encourage him to think about the fact that his deal will, by necessity, help set the market for others?

Which, by the way, is the truth, and it’s something every union member knows when they join a union.  Indeed, once the basics of safe working conditions and workers’ dignity are squared away, the “rising tide lifts all boats” dynamic is at the very essence and purpose of organized labor.  Management hates it, of course, and of course, La Russa is management.  But if management still got what it wanted all the time the reserve clause would still be in existence and ballplayers who drive a multi-billion industry would be making six figures.

To the extent there is pressure — and I don’t doubt that Pujols feels it — it’s not coming from union lackeys filling his voice mail with threats or whatever it is La Russa  is trying to inspire in listeners’ minds (and La Russa never says anything that isn’t calculated).  It’s the passive sort of pressure that comes from the realization of one’s position.  He knows that his contract means more to other players than, say, Curtis Granderson‘s does.  He knows everyone is watching.  Because it is going to necessarily be a huge and complicated deal, I’m sure there has already been some interaction with the union about it.

But would La Russa honestly have us believe that this man and his minions are putting the screws to Albert Pujols?  That poor, timid little Pujols is adrift is being “beat up” by a quirky lawyer named “Weiner”?  La Russa complicates everything, but in this case he’s turning what is a complicated situation into something that is black and white and he’s putting the black hat on the union.

It’s applesauce, I tells ya.

UPDATE:  Jeff Passan of Yahoo! just talked to union head Mike Weiner. His comment: “We have had no conversations with Albert or Dan Lozano.”

But … but … Tony La Russa has a “guaranteed assumption!”  Are you saying that La Russa is wrong?!  That can’t be!

  1. fellspointbird - Feb 15, 2011 at 1:23 PM

    I wouldn’t trust the players union. Prolly wouldn’t trust Albert either tho.

    Doesn’t LaRussa have a lawyer’s pedigree?

    • Kevin S. - Feb 15, 2011 at 1:53 PM

      So does Scott Boras. You trust him?

  2. billybeaneismyhero - Feb 15, 2011 at 1:30 PM

    Craig, it’s time. You need to make one of those “Leave X alone!” videos. I hear by nominate Jeff Francoeur as the topic of your video. I’ll even buy you the sideburns and send them to you express mail if you’re willing to do it.

    At the very least it would be fun for irony’s sake.

  3. lar @ wezen-ball - Feb 15, 2011 at 1:30 PM

    Good thing there was no manager’s union to pressure La Russa into signing that $5 million deal he has (or whatever the actual number is in that ballpark). How much of a discount was that, Tony?

    How high up on the “highest paid managers” list does TLR sit, anyway?

  4. sknut - Feb 15, 2011 at 1:37 PM

    I don’t think the union needs to tell Pujols where he stands he knows and thats why he hasn’t signed an extension yet, the Cards haven’t reached that point to give it to him yet….

  5. The Baseball Idiot - Feb 15, 2011 at 1:39 PM

    We heard the same exact story with Sabathia, and the union denied it then. Even though Sabathia said it was true.

    The union wouldn’t let Alex Rodriguez take less money in order to be traded to the Red Sox, because it would be bad for other players.

    I have no trouble believing the union would do this, because it’s all about the union, and not the players. They don’t care about the players as individuals, just contracts. So why wouldn’t they pressure Pujols?

    Just because people don’t like LaRussa doesn’t mean he’s wrong on this one. And the union wins this one again. Instead of people wondering what’s really happening with them, all of this will just turn into LaRussa bashing.

    Union 3, Baseball Fans 0

    • BC - Feb 15, 2011 at 1:41 PM

      That’s the primary reason the union exists – to get as much money and benefits for the players as possible. TLR is a chipwich.

    • scottp9 - Feb 15, 2011 at 2:39 PM

      I challenge you to show me where Sabathia said that the union put pressure on him. I don’t believe it for a second.

      The union never puts pressure on any free agent to take or not take any contract. Indeed, to do so would be collusive. The union has an interest in the arbitration market, because one deal has a direct impact on others, and so both the union and the Commissioner’s Office take an active role in arbitration deals, but in the free agent market players are free to do what they want, just as clubs are (or are supposed to be when they are not colluding).

      The A-Rod situation was different – the union does have an interest in protecting the sanctity of a contract, and would not let him (or any player) forego negotiated, guaranteed money or other benefits.

      LaRussa is full of it on this, as he often is. The guy knows how to paint a narrative, though.

  6. Mr. Jason "El Bravo" Heyward - Feb 15, 2011 at 1:44 PM

    It’s so simple it’s mind boggling. The Union, by default, is right. The best player in baseball deserves the best contract in baseball. The Union of course believes this, Albert believes this, the Cards are crazy if they don’t.

    • cintiphil - Feb 16, 2011 at 10:16 AM

      Wait a minute here. Don’t unions want to equalize pay for all of the members? Why would they want some players to make more (much more) than others? The only reason is that the big contracts lifts all others. And they have been dong that for many years. That is why it is almost impossible to take your family out to a ballgame, buy some hot dogs and drinks for the kids. Also, that is why I have to pay almost $10. for a beer at the game. That’s good for everyone right? I don’t know what is right or not, but the game is fast becoming unaffordable for most of us. Now, you have to pay to watch many games on T-V. Where does this stop?

  7. paperlions - Feb 15, 2011 at 1:44 PM

    Tony LaRussa doesn’t mind putting pressure on his GM to make the roster moves that he wants via creating a political struggle in the Cardinals FO by appealing directly to the owner; thereby, stripping the GM of his freedom to do his job the best way he knows how….but he does mind a union telling employees that they’d prefer they take the most money?

  8. wonkypenguin - Feb 15, 2011 at 2:32 PM

    Tony made his anti-union comments after meeting with Wisconsin governor Scott Walker for dinner.

  9. Old Gator - Feb 15, 2011 at 2:48 PM

    I seem to recall similar speculation about the pressure the MLBPA put on Jim Thome to take a fat contract with the Feelies when he really wanted to stay closer to his family in the midwest. This comes up periodically when a major free agency is looming or in process. But I don’t recall any speculation about pressure on Cliff Lee when he left some Borg Bucks on the table to sign with the Feelies, perhaps because it all happened too fast for them to get in on the action. ¿Quien sabe?

    • scottp9 - Feb 15, 2011 at 2:56 PM

      Speculation is the right word. Management likes to blame the union bogeyman when they don’t like a player’s position – hey, maybe a player even blames the union sometimes to not seem personally greedy or something – but it’s all bullshit, to use TLR’s term. The union fights to maintain a free market precisely so players can take full advantage of it – that might mean to grab the most money, but it also might mean to play at home or to pick the club with the best playing opportunity or whatever.

  10. Chris Fiorentino - Feb 15, 2011 at 3:13 PM

    If the Major League Baseball Players Association had any pull whatsoever in these matters, they surely would have used it to stop Gil Meche from retiring and giving the Royals back $12 million dollars that they were legally obligated to pay him, thus making every other fellow union player who signed a long-term deal and got hurt look like an immoral cur for not retiring as well.

  11. trevorb06 - Feb 16, 2011 at 10:10 AM

    “But if management still got what it wanted all the time the reserve clause would still be in existence and ballplayers who drive a multi-billion industry would be making six figures.”

    Because that would just suck.

    “Jesus H. Christ! Somebody wants to pay me six digits a year to play baseball all summer! I knew I should have became a brain surgeon, I’d make that much money doing that, too!”

    I wish I grew up back in the olden times when ball players felt honored that somebody wanted to pay them to do what they loved.

  12. cintiphil - Feb 16, 2011 at 10:20 AM

    By the was, I almost forgot to say, I am a big, big Albert fan. I just wish the Reds had the moolah to pay him to play here. Joey can play right field.

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