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SATURDAY | JULY 14, 2007
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Blog Zone > Bird Land > Blog Entry
PCD Wednesday: The Pujols Kerfuffle
By Derrick Goold
07/11/2007 11:08 am

UNIVERSITY CITY — I don’t follow the skipper’s logic.

Forget the overriding doctrine that you don’t lose a game with your best pinch hitter still on the bench — something we’ve seen a few times over the past couple seasons — but this explanation that Tony La Russa needed Albert Pujols available to play all sorts of positions if the All-Star Game went into extra innings loses me.

La Russa explained after the game that Miguel Cabrera’s shoulder injury forced Freddy Sanchez to be the backup third baseman. That thrust Pujols — who has made the All-Star Game at third, left field and first base; while also playing second base in his first All-Star Game — into the utility role. Fine. Good. Got it.

But when there’s a chance to bat Pujols with the game on the line it doesn’t take too much out-of-the-boxscore thinking to realize:

Pujols could play third, displacing Sanchez to be the utility player again.

Problem solved.

And that wasn’t the only moving part La Russa had.

Dmitri Young entered the game as a pinch hitter and while he’s played mostly first base and DH for several years, he does have more than 500 games in the outfield in his career (20 games as recently as 2005), and that would keep Derrek Lee in the lineup. Unless, that is, the pitcher took one of their spots. Orlando Hudson, if he wasn’t the player Pujols pinch hit for, is a Gold Glove middle infielder and probably could handle a few innings of shortstop if asked. Sanchez could, too. Alfonso Soriano, who was in the lineup, isn’t too far removed from refusing to move to the outfield from his preferred position of second base (if Pujols hit for Hudson or the pitcher went into that spot) or his early-season test drive in center field (if Pujols hit for Aaron Rowand).  

The pieces were there to make it work, and that’s just the start.

More importantly, the motivation was there to make it work.

During regular season games, La Russa is consumed with the message he sends players — be the messages positive or pointed. He wants them to get rest, to prep for September and October, not play every game in May. He doesn’t want to “bury them” with “unfair assignments” or “too much responsibilities”. So on Tuesday he has a chance to tell his best player, the only Cardinal player in San Francisco, that, yes, he’s the last player off the bench and, yes, extra innings could be a bear with a short bench, but …

Get a hit and extra innings won’t happen. Get a hit and there’s no need to worry about who plays second base or left field.

Get a hit and the National League wins.

Oh, and Albert, you’re just the kind of guy who can handle that responsibility.

Go win the game.

This strikes me as a bad baseball move and a worse p.r. move.

Maybe I’m missing something. Maybe this is why I’m at the keyboard and never at the controls. I cannot compute the logic here and a vast majority of the time La Russa is ruthlessly logical … so maybe, just maybe, there is something more that La Russa hasn’t explained yet.

Instead of putting Pujols in a position to win the game — the most important position of all the positions Pujols could have played — La Russa leaves us with questions. Leaves us wondering if Pujols is healthy or, now, if Pujols is frustrated. The Cardinals return for the second half of the season with yet another dose of drama. Look no further than ESPN’s headline this morning: “Pujols Angered at La Russa for All-Star Benching.” Overstated, sure. Overblown, yes. But bound to get attention. This will blow over. It probably won’t last through the next series. But there is a quote to notice in today’s gamer by Rick Hummel. Pujols said:

“Maybe he was saving me for next year’s All-Star Game.”

Seems like this is a good day, with plenty to talk about, to reunite Bird Land with its spin-off PostCards, which has gone daily the last couple weeks. As expected, the mailbag was bloated with questions about La Russa’s Pujols’ Gambit. But there was also a growing number of questions about Scott Rolen and his future as a Cardinal. I pooled some of those together and concluded with a little role reversal.

PostCards Questions Guru Dave Mitchell flips the script by asking a question intead fo always answering them.

The mailbag will continue going daily as long as there are questions to fill it. Write postcards@post-dispatch.com with any baseball, Cardinals or general-knowledge questions and check back at the PostCards blog each day for the Q&A.

On with PostCards:

***

Q: Can someone please explain to me how Tony La Russa could possibly think leaving Albert Pujols on the bench was the right move?  The bases were loaded with two out in the bottom of the ninth.  You have the best hitter in baseball sitting on your bench.  If he gets a hit, the game’s most likely over, so you won’t need to worry about extra innings.  Even so, I’d rather be in a jam figuring things out in extra innings on the off chance of a tie than leave Pujols on the bench and lose. La Russa blew that one big time.Not only that, what about all of us Cardinal fans waiting around to see our lone representative get in the game?  I was literally screaming at the TV in the ninth over this stupid call.  I’m sorry, but La Russa just dropped a couple of notches in my book over this bonehead move and his arrogance afterward trying to justify it is just asinine.   

Brett Martin, Arlington, Va.

DG: Mr. Martin’s question begins to explore the wide-ranging impact of La Russa’s decision, from the game at hand to the ballpark at home. I find it amazing to consider the ripple effects this one decision could have. He will be second-guessed for an All-Star Game, of all things. He didn’t use arguably the best hitter on his lineup, who is also his best player back at his day job. Do other Cardinals’ fans feel frustrated like Mr. Martin for not seeing their one All-Star get a swing with the game on the line? You bet. So, La Russa will be second-guessed in his club’s hometown for not using the one All-Star from his club, a club that, by the way, is the defending World Series champion.

Now there’s a question: Has a World Series winner ever not had a player make an All-Star Game appearance the year after the title? Yikes.

***

Q: Noted that Nomar Garciaparra has been moved to third base for the Dodgers, a move that could portend Normar’s exit from LA. It is evident that he is inferior defensively to Scott Rolen and at this stage of his career inferior offensively. Any chance that LA will offer some solid prospects (i. e., pitching) to the Redbirds to obtain Rolen to overcome the Padres in the NL West? 

    

JQ

Q: With the trade deadline looming, do you see the Cardinals making any major moves? If so, who would you think is a possible target to be acquired and/or be traded?

Brian, Conway, Ark.

Q: What’s your take on whether or not Scott Rolen would waive his no-trade clause?  Would Rolen accept a trade to the West Coast (Dodgers, Angels, or Padres)?  Would he accept a trade to Minnesota or Cleveland?  These seem like the teams that have a need for a third baseman and have plenty of young talent (especially pitching) they could deal.  At least for the remainder of this season, Scott Speizio could handle the hot corner (if he’s healthy), then we could find a long-term replacement in the off-season.

Kingpin, Grinnell, Iowa

DG: Major moves? If we expand the definition of major, I think it’s highly likely that the Cardinals attempt to make at least one move that will alter the look of its starting lineup. If there’s a bat to be had, the Cardinals will be trolling. If there’s interest in one of their relievers, the Cardinals will be taking bids.

Scott Rolen, as the questions pinpoint, remains the Wild Card.

Rolen has a no-trade clause and there has been no indication from the third baseman or from his agents that he is willing to waive it or that he has even been approached about dropping it. Fans seem to be packing his bags, not Rolen and not the Cardinals. Not now. Because of that talking about the teams he would approve a trade to would only be a series of guesses. LA Dodgers appear likeable — young, contending, good pitching. Cleveland, too. Maybe the Angels. All three have prospects the Cardinals could use. To make such a deal — which would qualify as a major move no matter the definition of major — the Cardinals have to consider the future, not 2007.

This will be a delicate situation, one that would require shopping Rolen while not alienating Rolen as this team still looks to contend. If a deal like that is going to happen, it’s mostly likely going to happen in the offseason.

On the rumor mill, names of players potentially on the move around the league are starting to bubble up (though no firm connections to the Cardinals as of now): Jose ContrerasKen Griffey Jr., Clint Barmes, Brad Lidge, Octavio Dotel (again!) … Miguel Tejada.  

*** 

Q: Has MLB assigned the specific date for the 2009 All Star game ?

Dave Mitchell, Waterloo, Iowa

DG: Sure has. July 7, 2009, according to multiple reports. Here’s betting Pujols’ starts. Or at least plays.

***

Every WEEKDAY as long the questions keep coming, The Post-Dispatch’s baseball writer Derrick Goold will answer fans’ emails in a mailbag blog called PostCards, a spin-off of Bird Land. To comment and discuss the mailbag visit the PostCards blog on StlToday.com. To submit questions write postcards@post-dispatch.com or file them as a comment on this blog. With all questions please include your name and hometown.

PostCards will run online exclusively at StlToday.com.

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COMMENTS AVAILABLE: 27 RESPONSES
Pages: [1] 2 3 4 5 6 » (Show All) Comment On This Post
  1. One of Tony Larussa’s Ten Managing Commandments is to “Always Put Your Team in the Best Spot to Win the Game”. I want someone to ask him to explain how, with the bases loaded and needing a run to MAKE IT to extra innings Tony can believe Rowand was the best option over Pujols to win the game? This sounds like Tony was playing for the tie rather than playing for the win which is contradictory to his Gospel.

    This boils down to Tony overthinking the game, which he has a great tendancy to do. I’ll give him a lot of credit because it has obviously worked for him and we do have a World Title. I’m not going to pick up a pitch fork to run him out of town. But I think it’s clear that it’ time to part ways. At the expense of alienating fans and one of his own guys he tried to prove that he was the top mind in the game. I don’t even think he understands how this is percieved by us and thats a good point to amicablly part ways. The team needs to rebuild anyway, best to do it top down.

    I’m just so disappointed in Tony all around this season. As much as I will love him for last year, this season as a whole is leaving a bitter little aftertaste in my mouth for a number of guys.

    Comment by RCJ — July 11, 2007 @ 11:50 am

  2. I might be able to understand Tony not pinch-hitting Pujols in the 9th if the game was tied, but not playing him because he was being “saved” for extra innings that had a great chance of never happening is one of the worst decisions I’ve ever seen. You’ve got to pull out all the stops and try to tie the game or even win it in that situation. Extra innings be damned.

    That’s just taking into account Game Management 101. Add to it the fans that wanted to see Pujols play - especially the fans that don’t get to see him everyday like we do - and it is a slap in the face by Tony. I think part of the reason he got so defensive/angry when asked about it was that he knew he screwed up. For all his talk about trying to win the game, this was as questionable a decision as he could have possibly made.

    Comment by bluesfan63301 — July 11, 2007 @ 12:07 pm

  3. I think RCJ said everything I’m thinking, and was probably a lot more polite than I’m inclined to be. The only person TLR managed to outsmart last night was himself. Obviously he was quite satisfied with himself for being well-prepared for extra innings. And that’s great and all, but you still have to know when to forget about the contingency plan and take your best shot.

    The Rowand at-bat WAS the game: down by a run, bases loaded, two outs. A base hit likely scores two - game over. It was a situation tailor-made for #5, but apparently TLR couldn’t stop thinking about extra innings long enough to realize that. He refused to abandon his “plan” - or maybe he was mad at Pujols for changing his mind and risking injury in the home run derby. Or maybe he was intentionally trying to make him mad to try and “motivate” Albert into a big second half. Who knows? He’s always working some angle from the fifth dimension, and at this point I don’t really care what his reasons were. Bottom line: not only did he lose, he managed to show up his franchise player and potentially create another distraction that this team doesn’t need in the second half.

    Let’s say it’s 1947 instead of 2007. You’re managing the AL All Star team, and you find yourself in the same exact 9th inning situation we saw last night. Joe DiMaggio is the last man on your bench - do you save him for extra innings? I sincerely doubt it. Tony just pulled the modern-day equivalent of that, and he doesn’t even seem to get why people are absolutely stunned.

    TLR has done a lot of weird stuff over the last 12 years - things that made me scratch my head, and like RCJ mentioned, a few things that that had me screaming at the TV. In the end I’ve always decided that Tony has his way of looking at things, and he undoubtedly knows a lot more than I do. But last night was just about the worst managerial decision I’ve ever seen any manager make - it was absolutely indefensible. The fact that it was an All Star game doesn’t matter - it speaks to his approach, his mindset and his arrogance. I think it’s rapidly becoming apparent that he isn’t the best person to manage this team anymore. If he really thinks what he did last night was his “best to chance to win”, then I’d be perfectly happy seeing Jose Oquendo managing this team tomorrow night.

    Comment by JM — July 11, 2007 @ 12:37 pm

  4. I don’t understand why in an all-star game some players play 3 or 4 innings while others don’t even play. It’s the ALL-STAR GAME! … I don’t blame Albert P. I would have stayed home too if I knew I was’nt gonna play.

    Comment by Jack — July 11, 2007 @ 12:44 pm

  5. JM, what a great set of comments about LaRussa’s decision. I think every baseball fan in America is absolutely stunned, and LaRussa is typically angry at all the ’stupid’ writers and fans for not getting it. He took a perfect moment and destroyed it with such casual arrogance that one almost felt assaulted, and certainly indignant. I don’t see how the Cards will retain any respect for their manager from here on.

    Comment by PK — July 11, 2007 @ 1:00 pm

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