What Albert Pujols told Tony La Russa about taking White Sox job

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Chuck Garfien
·5 min read
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What Pujols told La Russa about taking Sox job originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

Albert Pujols was playing golf with his son, A.J., this past October when his phone rang.

Tony La Russa was calling. He had secret news to share.

“I need to tell you something, but you can’t say anything,” La Russa said.

RELATED: Abreu, La Russa and the Sox connection to Albert Pujols

The Hall-of-Fame skipper, who hadn’t managed since winning the World Series with Pujols and the St. Louis Cardinals in 2011, was seriously thinking about returning to the dugout — and to the South Side of Chicago — to manage the White Sox.

But before accepting the job, La Russa wanted the opinion of someone he trusted: Pujols.

“Let me know what you think I should do.”

La Russa and Pujols won two World Series titles together with the Cardinals, but that only scratches the surface of their relationship. Theirs is a bond that goes well beyond the diamond.

“He’s like a dad to me,” Pujols said on the White Sox Talk Podcast, “somebody I can pick up the phone, whether it’s early in the morning or late at night, I can call anytime and ask for advice.”

This time, though, it was La Russa asking his baseball son for advice.

“He shared with me the opportunity that he had to come back and be a manager,” Pujols said. “At first, I couldn’t believe it.”

La Russa then asked Pujols for his opinion about the White Sox.

“I told him, the White Sox are ready to go. They’ve got a really good mix, really good young players and veteran guys. He’d have a pretty good chance to win again,” Pujols explained. “He said, ‘Oh, you think that?' I’m like, ‘Yeah, of course.’ 'OK, I’m going to take that advice.'

"And then two days later, I heard the news. I’m really excited for him.”

Even though La Russa has the third most wins in major league history, behind Connie Mack and John McGraw, the hiring of a 76-year-old who hadn’t managed in almost a decade was met with plenty of criticism and skepticism by fans and media.

But according to Pujols, La Russa was most concerned about how White Sox players would accept him and play for him, considering he’d be returning to the dugout after such a long layoff.

“That was one thing he was really asking me about,” Pujols said. “If I was a young player, and I have a Hall-of-Fame manager with the success that he has and the experience he has, I’d welcome him in with a red carpet. That’s what I told him. I told Tony, 'You can’t be nervous about that. There are going to be people talking about that. Just prove them wrong like you always have.'

“I tried to tell him, 'Don’t worry about what people say. They’re going to talk bad, no matter what. The two percent of those people who always criticize whether you do good or bad, you can’t control that. All that you can control is yourself and (making) sure you get your team ready to go.

“I’m pretty sure that Tony is going to put that chip on his shoulder and prove a lot of people wrong out there this year.”

Soon after La Russa was hired by the White Sox, Pujols called up his friend and fellow first baseman José Abreu to tell him everything about La Russa.

“'You’re really going to know what a true manager is right now,'” Pujols said to Abreu. “'The way he makes guys prepare from Day 1 of spring training to the last day of the season, Tony always gets you ready to play.'”

Once he arrived at camp in February, it didn’t take long for Abreu to see exactly what Pujols was talking about.

“(Abreu) was like, ‘Man, it’s unbelievable. What you said two months ago, I see it every day,'” said Pujols, who added, “I’m pretty sure the whole locker room feels the same way.”

Pujols says that he and Abreu have spoken once or twice a week during spring training, strengthening a friendship that goes back to when Abreu was a rookie emigrating from Cuba.

“The first time that I met (Abreu), I had the idea that he was going to be a superstar, and that’s what he’s done,” Pujols said about the 2020 AL MVP. “I have so much respect for him and everything that he had to go through. Since Day 1 when he got to the big leagues, we connected really well.

"I was able to encourage him and welcome him to the big leagues, even though I was wearing a different uniform. For me, part of my responsibility as a Latin player and a big league player is to encourage those young players to teach them the way. That’s what I was for Abreu.”

Thanks to Major League Baseball's schedule-makers, La Russa and Pujols will be reunited in opposing dugouts Thursday, when the White Sox open the regular season against the Los Angeles Angels.

“I wish (La Russa) the best, except when he plays against us,” Pujols said. “Hopefully we can have a good series and let the best team win at the end of the night.”

Where will the White Sox be at the end of the season? With the talent on the field and La Russa in the dugout, Pujols believes that anything is possible.

“I think Chicago should be really, really excited this year.”

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