La Russa Not Surprised by McGwire's Snub

By R.B. FALLSTROM
The Associated Press
Monday, January 15, 2007; 6:37 PM

ST. LOUIS -- Mark McGwire's poor showing in his first year of Hall of Fame eligibility didn't surprise St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa.

"I kind of figured there was going to be a statement made about that situation, so I wasn't surprised, and I didn't really have an opinion," La Russa said Monday. "I like what Tony Gwynn said. You know, this guy belongs in the Hall of Fame and, hopefully, sooner rather than later."

General manager Walt Jocketty's trade for McGwire in 1997 is perhaps his best, costing the Cardinals only three marginal players. One year later, McGwire hit 70 home runs to shatter Roger Maris' 37-year-old record.

McGwire, suspected of using steroids, was picked on only 23.5 percent of ballots in his first year of eligibility, far below the 75 percent needed.

"I'm disappointed but I'm not surprised, because I think he had a Hall of Fame career," Jocketty said. "Hopefully he gets the opportunity to get to the Hall of fame. "He was a great player and demonstrated that while he was here and in Oakland."

Second baseman Adam Kennedy, one of Cardinals' free-agent additions, met with McGwire last week at a charity event in California. Kennedy, a teammate of McGwire's in 1999 with the Cardinals before being traded to the Angels in 2000, said the two did not talk about the Hall of Fame.

"He seemed to be in good spirits," Kennedy said. "It was a good time. He enjoys living out there and the privacy he has, so he seemed to be doing well."

Kennedy said McGwire "absolutely" was Hall of Fame material.

"Maybe just from playing with him or knowing the kind of person he is, you expect a little more respect for someone who did the things that he did in his time," Kennedy said.

The comments came at the team's three-day Winter Warmup fan festival, capped by the 49th annual dinner hosted by the St. Louis chapter of the Baseball Writers' Association of America.

Albert Pujols was honored as St. Louis baseball man of the year at the dinner, which also featured Ryan Howard of the Phillies _ the player who beat him out for the NL MVP.

Pujols has been honored as man of the year six straight seasons since his rookie year in 2001, sharing the award this year with La Russa and Jocketty in the wake of the team's first World Series win in 24 years.

Pujols did not attend the dinner, leaving for a humanitarian mission to his native Dominican Republic sponsored by the Pujols Family Foundation after signing hundreds of autographs on Saturday.

At a news conference in the Dominican Republic in late November, Pujols was quoted in Spanish as saying a player who doesn't lead his team to the postseason doesn't deserve to win the MVP award. Pujols said Saturday what he said then had been "misunderstood."

Pujols has often worked out with Howard, who is from suburban Wildwood, Mo., the last four seasons and said he was happy for him. Howard led the majors with 58 homers and 149 RBIs, while Pujols batted .331 with 49 homers and 137 RBIs despite missing a month with a back injury.

"That's a kid I really love," Pujols said. "Winning the MVP last year, I felt it was really great, I worked hard for it. I know how hard he worked to get his MVP and the last thing I want to do is ruin his moment."

© 2007 The Associated Press