LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Tony La Russa predicts a contract extension for Cardinals star Albert Pujols will come either before spring training or after the season — nothing in between.
"I know Albert well enough that once he gets into spring training, he doesn't like distractions," the Cardinals manager said Wednesday at the winter meetings. "I just know once spring training starts, Albert doesn't get distracted by anything."
La Russa said both the Cardinals and Pujols will learn from the sometimes messy public comments made before Derek Jeter agreed Tuesday to a $51 million, three-year contract with the Yankees.
Pujols, like Jeter, wants to remain with the only big league organization he's ever played for. In October, St. Louis exercised a $16 million option for the three-time NL MVP.
"I was taken by Derek Jeter's comments. The publicity that surrounded it was uncomfortable for him, upset him. And Albert is a lot like that, almost exactly," La Russa said. "There is a privacy between the parties that I'm sure is going to be respected. When you get to spring training, if he hasn't signed, all you've got to do is say, 'I ain't going to talk about it.' He says, 'I'm not going to talk about it.' I say 'ain't.' He says 'not.' It's America. Just don't talk about it."
And, La Russa said, don't call Pujols by a nickname that's become popular.
"Two or three, whatever, years ago, he became 'El Hombre,' right? Like Stan the Man," La Russa said. "And Albert's the one that said please don't call me that, and he was saying that out of respect for Stan."
Hall of Famer Stan Musial, also a three-time MVP, is considered the greatest Cardinals player.
"He doesn't like you to call him 'El Hombre' because Stan is the man. And he's not Stan the Man. He's Albert. That to me is classic," La Russa said. "Albert has got his priorities right. He's got the sense of perspective on history. He knows Stan. And Albert's had 10 years; Stan had 22 or something, you know? So he's not Stan yet. He's on his way, though. And he's in conversation with the great ones."