The best player in baseball and his manager don't usually disagree, at least in public, but Arizona's immigration law has changed all that: in a shocking and major political news development, Albert Pujols and Tony La Russa have taken opposite sides on SB 1070.
La Russa, a Californian who holds a law degree, said in late June that he supports the law: "I'm actually a supporter of what Arizona is doing," La Russa said. "If the national government doesn't fix your problem, you've got a problem. You've got to fix it yourself. That's just part of the American way." La Russa graduated from Florida State law school in 1978 and passed the bar the following year, making him one of five manager/lawyers in MLB history.
Pujols, who had remained silent on the law--in his typical stoic, non-confrontational deference to the equally intense and competitive manager--has spoken out against it along with some other players who have criticized the law this week, USA Today reports:
Cardinals slugger Albert Pujols refused comment on whether the game should be moved, saying it's out of his control, but did say he opposed the law.Said Pujols Monday: "I'm opposed to it. How are you going to tell me that, me being Hispanic, if you stop me and I don't have my ID, you're going to arrest me? That can't be.''
Relevant background information: this follows an extremely rare (possibly the first ever) dugout yelling incident between Pujols and La Russa in May. With two outs and Pujols at the plate, La Russa gave the signal for outfielder Ryan Ludwick (who is not very fast) to steal second. He got thrown out, and the inning ended. Pujols displayed his disgust, flipping a couple trays of gum in the dugout, and La Russa told him, "that's enough," then added "I [expletive deleted] how to manage!" Disagreement over immigration policy was not reported as a motivating factor in the steal sign.
More back-story: both Pujols's and La Russa's fates with the Cardinals organization are up in the air. La Russa is under a one-year contract extension; he and pitching coach Dave Duncan (who has been with La Russa since his Oakland days) are getting old, and they might not be back next year. Pujols, meanwhile, will soon enter free agency, and his new contract will be negotiated after this season. The two have traditionally gotten along, or so it's always appeared. If Tony goes, it's possible Pujols will go too, depending on who replaces him.
Back to immigration: why not judge this issue on the comparative records of Pujols and La Russa, rather than SB 1070's actual legal merits? La Russa is the third-winningest manager of all time and the winningest active manager, fewer than 100 games ahead of Bobby Cox; he's won five pennants and two World Series titles. Pujols, on the other hand, is fourth all-time in slugging percentage and 21st all-time in batting average; he was the first player to hit 30+ home runs in each of his first nine seasons; he's a three-time NL MVP; he won a Gold Glove at first base in 2006.
Despite the Justice Department's pending lawsuit, we will probably have to wait at least another five years, to see how the rest of Pujols's career goes, to know whether Arizona was within its constitutional bounds in passing SB 1070.