MLB Free Agents 2012: How Tony La Russa's Retirement Affects Albert Pujols

Eric BallFeatured ColumnistOctober 31, 2011

ST LOUIS, MO - OCTOBER 28:  (L-R) Manager Tony La Russa and Albert Pujols #5 of the St. Louis Cardinals celebrate after defeating the Texas Rangers 6-2 to win the World Series in Game Seven of the MLB World Series at Busch Stadium on October 28, 2011 in St Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

The saga of Albert Pujols just keeps getting better.

Now that Tony La Russa has retired, the Pujols watch is back on.

I think La Russa could have convinced his star player to return. 

Now it’s a toss up.

After contract negotiations broke down before the season started, things didn’t look good for Pujols and the St. Louis Cardinals. He had spent his entire 10-year career with the Red Birds and now the next 10 years were up for grabs.

As the Cardinals stumbled along to an uninspired season, the rumors began to swirl around potential landing spots.

Then they erased the 10.5 game Wild Card deficit, got incredibly hot at the right time and rode that momentum to a World Series championship, their second one since 2006.

ST LOUIS, MO - OCTOBER 19:  Albert Pujols #5 and manager Tony La Russa #10 of the St. Louis Cardinals greet each other during introductions prior to Game One of the MLB World Series against the Texas Rangers at Busch Stadium on October 19, 2011 in St Loui
Pool/Getty Images

The new assumption was that Pujols was a shoe-in to return after such a memorable run. Now that the victory parade is over and manager Tony La Russa has retired…the big question is once again heating up. The odds of Pujols leaving are going up and down as fast as the stock market.

The Cardinals scoffed at paying Pujols $300M in March…that’s a lot of money for a team that sports a payroll in the Midwest. When you factor in that the Cards will likely throw gobs of money at a big-name manager…money is going to be tight.

La Russa has been the only major league manager Pujols has ever known. The two had the sort of relationship rarely seen in today’s merry-go-round of free agents and inpatient G.M’s.

Pujols had earned enough trust to call his own hit-and-run, as evident by the debacle that occurred in Game 5 of the World Series. The two connected on a level not seen in today’s game.  Patrick Rishe of Forbes talks about a different factor that Pujols will strongly consider:

At the end of the day, Albert is a historian of the game.  He wants to set all-time records, he wants to do so cleanly, and he wants to surpass the legend of Stan Musial as the all-time greatest Cardinal.

Additionally, I’ve always see Mr. Pujols as a throw-back to another generation.  So just as players like Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken Jr played their entire careers with one team, I believe Albert assign a greater value to this because of his recognition of the game’s history.

There’s performance value and marquee value.  Though Albert’s performance value is likely to decline as he ages, his marquee value will only be enhanced by staying in St Louis.  Achieving some of baseball’s milestones in another city just won’t carry the same luster.

I have to agree with Rishe.

La Russa leaving will certainly have an impact, but the history “King Albert” has made in St. Louis has been incredible.

As he inches closer to multiple milestones and records, he needs to be in a St. Louis uniform.

With A-Rod breaking records in his third different MLB uniform, some how it doesn’t mean as much. If Pujols were to start breaking home run records in a Chicago Cub uniform, it just wouldn’t have the same meaning.

Deep down I think Albert knows this. Pujols is playing hard ball with negotiating tactics like he should, but ultimately he wants to play his entire career in St. Louis.

Losing La Russa hurts, but it’s not enough to kick the best athlete in St. Louis history out of town.

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