La Russa has tried this strategy before with encouraging results.
"When we were really struggling to score runs in the second half of ['98], we were plus 10 [in the win column] with it," La Russa said. "This past year, we were struggling again. [It] just makes Albert the cleanup hitter, which is one of the reasons we did it in '98, because [Mark] McGwire was hitting third."
Designed to give Pujols cleanup opportunities without moving him from the three spot -- and eliminating a first inning at-bat -- La Russa said it makes a lot of sense to use it again this season.
"I think the more you just watch the game, the potential to score more runs is there," La Russa. "[That's] good enough for me."
So why the hiatus between '98 and last year?
"Gutless," La Russa answered smiling. "The reason I didn't do it more than anything else is, it does have a tendency to stir up conversation, and I always fear it would distract our players because they would have to be answering questions [like], 'How do you feel about hitting ninth?' But I thought strategically it worked well, and starting in 2000, we were winning enough [so] I didn't feel [as much motivation]. But last year, we struggled, and when you struggle, you do something different."
This season, the Cardinals' offense has been overhauled. Gone are David Eckstein, Jim Edmonds and Scott Rolen. Pujols will hit third, and new third baseman Troy Glaus will hit in the middle of the order. Catcher Yadier Molina will likely bat seventh. But with three weeks to go until Opening Day, the lineup is still a work in progress.
With so many new faces, predicting how this offense will perform is a guessing game at this point, and the potential to struggle is there. But Pujols is a proven commodity, and as such, getting him the maximum number of RBI opportunities makes a lot of sense.
La Russa said if he had Rickey Henderson hitting leadoff and the greatest second-place hitter in the world, it might not make as much sense. But he watched position players bat ninth during his years as an American League manager, and his two trials with the experiment in St. Louis has further convinced him of the wisdom of this approach.
Besides, pitchers are often pinch-hit for in the late innings anyway.
"Do you disagree that a position player has a better chance to get on base than the pitcher?" La Russa said. "If that's true, and that's the whole basis for this, if that's true, that gives you another baserunner ahead of the guy [hitting third]. I think it gives you more chances to score."