"To Albert's credit, probably the most important message that I'd like to leave this morning is -- because I heard last night when I was driving around, a couple of commentators are saying, 'Well, no loyalty just for a couple million dollars' -- that's not true," La Russa said. "He was ready to give a significant edge to the Cardinals, but the difference to where the Cardinals could go -- and I don't blame the Cardinals at all -- was just too great."
La Russa, who retired after he and Pujols led the Cards to a World Series title last season, said he did not think the team's decision to sign Matt Holliday to a $120 million deal before the 2009 season was a mistake because of any limitations it may have put on the Cards' negotiation with Pujols. They needed a second big bat.
There are also perceptions that Pujols was disgruntled by offers the Cardinals gave him prior to becoming a free agent, but La Russa described those as exaggerated.
"Albert does a terrific job of separating his business life and his professional athletic life," La Russa said. "You could never tell form his work, the way he went about his business, the way he was a teammate, a winner and everything else.
"In all negotiations, sometimes you get a little disappointed -- or a lot disappointed -- but it never was serious, and I just think, when the whole thing started, a lot of us felt: Here's a terrific organization, a great player, they were going to try and both be as reasonable as they could, make an agreement. But if somebody came out -- not just the Angels, but the Marlins did, and there was another club there that came out there very, very strong -- if one of those clubs came out, it's hard to walk away from that."
Despite the length of Pujols' contract, a rarity in any professional sport, La Russa feels that Pujols has the best chance of anyone to live up to it. Ultimately, La Russa said, the slugger's departure from St. Louis was a reflection of the times.
"It's been going on for a while, that's why so few guys can spend one career in a place," La Russa said. "No matter how great you are, just the reality is that the Cardinals -- you know, they have an economic thing that they have to watch very closely, and there's a reasonable spot that they can get to, and they're not smart to go beyond that. And you got Albert, who I know was willing to give them a significant discount, but it was just unreasonable compared to what might happen and did happen. If somebody comes out there and overwhelms him, that's just the process."