JUPITER, Fla. -- Cardinals manager Tony La Russa tries not to discuss the stalemated Albert Pujols contract negotiations. But La Russa can't tear himself away from his belief that the Major League Baseball Players' Association is applying pressure, overtly or otherwise, in the matter of a record-breaking, contract extension for the Cardinals' first baseman.
"I know what he's going through with the union, and to some extent, his representatives,'' said La Russa this morning at the Cardinals' camp. "His representatives are getting beat up by the union. 'Set the bar. Set the bar.'
"That's bull(bleep). Purely and truly. You've got to deal with it, but that's not the way it should be.
"It should be, 'Look at all the factors.' Values, loyalty, maybe there's a better opportunity someplace else. Maybe there's a better opportunity than here. All that stuff. But it shouldn't be the most money, the most money, the most money.
"I just know those forces are in place. I don't ask them about it. It's not my place to ask. I don't know much he's going to listen to it or is listening to it. But those are powerful forces."
In a story by Post-Dispatch baseball writer Joe Strauss that was posted on STLtoday.com at 1:30 p.m., the players' union contested La Russa's charge of meddling. Read that story here.
Asked what might happen next, both before and after Wednesday's noon Eastern time deadline for the completion of spring negotiations on Pujols' contract, La Russa said, "I have no expectation of anything. I'm just confident that when Albert shows up, he'll get ready to play and we'll be ready to play around him. That's as far as I go. Stuff will get taken care of some way, somehow, some time."
And La Russa insisted he, Pujols and the rest of the Cardinals weren't going to be distracted by the perhaps season-long fallout of Pujols heading for free agency.
"It's been proven over and over and over again," said La Russa. "You control what you think about as an individual and as a team.
"If you can't handle that distraction, then you can't play on this club -- because then we won't have a chance. All you'd be doing is just making excuses. Albert is a prime example of someone who's dealt with distractions. He gets ready."
"In all the years I've been around and with all the players that have gone through this, if there ever was a player that you can confidently say has got a steel trap for a mind and can tune things out, it's Albert."
To the suggestion that fans might turn on Pujols at least a bit if he doesn't accept a Cardinals offer before the season starts, La Russa said, "I think Albert and the Cardinals have built up so many points with our fans that whatever happens.. . there are going to be some people who can't help themselves. . . I think the great majority of people who support our club are going to support the Cardinals and support Albert.
"His faith is so strong it carries him through a lot of stuff. He's not going to want to disappoint people _ whether they're on the earth or above the earth.
"So if he's not signed Opening Day, I don't think there's going to be anything more than the biggest cheers for Albert Pujols. There's 10 years of points he's made and the organization's made 100 years of it.
"If I'm wrong, I'm wrong. But I don't think so."
When La Russa was asked if he was eager to put this matter in the rear-view mirror, he said, "I don't pay attention to it. If you're talking about not getting distracted, I'll lead the way. I'm not going to get distracted."
But the questions will continue and La Russa said, pleasantly, "You know what the answer is going to be, so quit asking. I'm going to encourage our players to do the same. In the end, it's not being uncooperative or anything. It's the reality of why we're here.
"My dad always said, 'The more confusing it gets, the simpler you keep it.' The simple thing is it's our team against the teams in the National League and sometimes against the American and get to October. Periodo. That's it."