By The Associated Press
ST. LOUIS — Albert Pujols supports Mark McGwire, both for acknowledging his use of steroids and in his new role as hitting coach of the St. Louis Cardinals.
“I told him I’m proud of him for admitting what he used,” Pujols said Monday at the team’s Winter Warm-Up. “Everybody makes mistakes.”
Pujols angrily rejected the notion that McGwire made the admission to revive his chances of getting voted to the Hall of Fame. Despite hitting 583 home runs, tied for eighth of the career list, McGwire has received less than 25 percent support in four appearances on the ballot.
“Go talk to Mark, I think he cleared up everything, he closed the doors,” Pujols told reporters. “If you want to reopen those doors I know the right guy. Go talk to Mark about it. … There’s 300,000 people that just died in Haiti and you guys just want to concentrate on Mark McGwire. Come on, give me a break.”
McGwire’s first news conference in St. Louis since 2005 was to be behind a podium Sunday but was shifted to a crowded hotel hallway. The session lasted just over six minutes and offered Big Mac a convenient escape route via a service entrance while surrounded by security personnel.
Still, the Cardinals feel that’s enough, and manager Tony La Russa warned that Big Mac’s first spring training as a coach will focus on work.
“I don’t know what else he can say. How many more times does he have to apologize? How many more times does he have to admit he made a mistake?” La Russa said.
La Russa maintained his Oakland teams would have been big winners even without steroids use by McGwire and Jose Canseco, dubbed the Bash Brothers.
He reiterated he had no suspicions regarding McGwire’s dramatic improvements until after Big Mac dodged questions at the 2005 Congressional hearings.
La Russa said he suspected a third, unidentified Athletics player, of using performance-enhancing drugs during his decade in Oakland. The manager cleared many of PED use, mentioning Rickey Henderson, Dave Henderson, third baseman Carney Lansford and setup man Rick Honeycutt by name, and the rotation and closer Dennis Eckersley by mentioning those positions.
Cardinals players during the La Russa years from 1996 to the present linked to steroids use include McGwire, Rick Ankiel, Troy Glaus and Ryan Franklin. The team has not been reluctant to obtain players linked to performance-enhancing drugs, acquiring Glaus and Franklin after the fact.
“If that’s a taint to some extent with people, or whatever, large extent, this is America,” La Russa said. “You’re free to your opinion.”
As for McGwire’s qualifications as a hitting coach, he has no experience beyond one-on-one work with players during the offseason, although Matt Holliday and others spoke highly of their time with him.
“I’m pretty sure I’m going to learn a lot from Mark,” Pujols said. “If he says something I don’t agree with, I don’t use it, I go out there and take my own plan. … But I’m open to hear from my teammates, from my hitting coach, manager, coaches — that’s how you get better in this game.”
La Russa said he hired McGwire because he believed he had “something special he could teach.”
Pujols is No. 2 on the Cardinals’ salary scale after Matt Holliday, who agreed this month to a franchise-record $120 million, seven-year contract. The three-time NL MVP hopes to stay with the Cardinals but says he won’t negotiate once the season begins. He has one guaranteed season remaining on a seven-year contract and the Cardinals have an option for 2011.
“The Cardinals pretty much did me a favor signing me for $100 million when they didn’t have to,” Pujols said. “When that time comes, obviously, if it’s taking a discount to make this organization better, you know what, I want a great organization to be in the playoffs every year if we can.”
Pujols resumed hitting three weeks ago after recovering from surgery in October to remove bone chips from his right elbow. He said his arm extension is better than it’s been in a long time.
“I’m real excited for spring training,” Pujols said. “The ball is jumping pretty good off my bat.”
Pujols and Whitey Herzog, newly elected to the Hall of Fame, were honored as co-baseball men of the year at the St. Louis Baseball Writers dinner Monday night.
“It’s been a wonderful ride ever since I got here,” said Herzog, who managed three NL pennant winners and a World Series champion in St. Louis in the 1980s.
Members of the 2009 Central Division champions and 1985 National League champions appeared as well as former umpire Don Denkinger, whose blown call helped the Kansas City Royals beat the Cardinals in the ’85 I-70 Series. Reliever Todd Worrell, who — replays showed — beat Jorge Orta to first base, sat next to Denkinger on the dais.
“I really did not like him until I got to have dinner with him,” Worrell said. “He’s a pretty good dude.”