La Russa weighing future with Cardinals

By R.B. FALLSTROM, AP Sports Writer

ST. LOUIS (AP) — Nearly two weeks after his team was swept in the first round of the playoffs, Tony La Russa is still trying to decide whether he wants to return for a 15th season as St. Louis Cardinals manager.

In a telephone interview Thursday with The Associated Press, La Russa promised the team he’d make a decision fairly soon. Chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. and general manager John Mozeliak have both said they’d like La Russa back.

“I know the organization needs an answer,” La Russa said. “I told them when I figure out whether there’s fire in there or not I’ll let them know. I’m not going to take forever.”

He and the rest of the organization are relieved that Albert Pujols’ elbow surgery earlier this week was not nearly as extensive as had been feared.

La Russa said the Cardinals had been concerned that Pujols would require reconstructive surgery. That would have sidelined the 29-year-old Pujols, perhaps the front-runner for a third NL MVP this season, for the first few months of 2010.

The Cardinals sent their team physician, Dr. George Paletta, to Birmingham, Ala., along with Pujols for the procedure performed by Dr. James Andrews. Andrews told the team that Pujols, who has played with a partially torn elbow ligament since 2003, would not require a reconstruction.

Bone spurs were shaved and bone chips were removed during Wednesday’s procedure.

“We were prepared for Tommy John surgery and we’re pleased that’s it’s less,” La Russa said. “You prepare for the worst and hope for the best, but you never know and I try not to be surprised.”

The team anticipates that Pujols will be ready for spring training. Pujols has had elbow surgery the last two seasons. Last October, he had an outpatient procedure done by Paletta to relieve nerve irritation that led to numbness, tingling in his ring finger and pinkie, weakness in the grip and pain along the inside of the forearm.

Pujols led the majors with 47 homers while batting .327 with 135 RBIs but didn’t homer in his final 89 at-bats after Sept. 9, the longest drought of his career. La Russa repeated his belief voiced the day after the Cardinals were swept in the division series by the Dodgers that the elbow wasn’t a factor, noting he watched Pujols making diving plays and driving balls in batting practice down the stretch.

The Dodgers pitched around Pujols, issuing three intentional walks the first two games.

“I think he dealt with his elbow all year long and he hit 47,” the manager said. “He’s a line drive hitter and never gets pitched easy.”

Pujols has topped .300, 30 homers and 100 RBIs in all nine of his seasons.