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Angels reach Albert Pujols on a personal level

The slugger, who agreed to a 10-year, $254-million deal on Thursday after a seemingly whirlwind courtship, says the Angels were tugging at his heart as he made his decision to leave St. Louis.

December 10, 2011|By Mike DiGiovanna
  • First baseman Albert Pujols tries on an Angels cap as newly acquired pitcher C.J. Wilson watches during a news conference at Angel Stadium on Saturday.
First baseman Albert Pujols tries on an Angels cap as newly acquired pitcher… (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles…)

It was 5 a.m. Thursday in Dallas when the Angels, following five hours of negotiations on the final night of the winter meetings, closed a five-year, $77.5-million deal with pitcher C.J. Wilson.

After a group hug with front-office executives, General Manager Jerry Dipoto returned to his Hilton Anatole suite for a little sleep.

"The woman at the front desk laughed when I called at 6:30 a.m. and asked for an 8 a.m. wake-up call," Dipoto said. "By the time I got up and showered, my phone was going crazy."

One of those calls, at 8:55 a.m., was from Dan Lozano, the agent for Albert Pujols, the St. Louis slugger who only 36 hours earlier was linked with the Angels for the first time.

Dipoto, not two months into his new job, heard words that would shock the baseball world:

"Albert is ready to be an Angel."

Scott Servais, the Angels' assistant general manager, was in Dipoto's suite.

"We looked at each other and said, 'Is this for real?' " Servais said. "Everybody assumed that he would stay in St. Louis."

At 8:59 a.m., news of the Angels' 10-year, $254-million deal with Pujols broke on Twitter. An hour later, Wilson's deal was confirmed.

In one whirlwind morning, the Angels made the biggest one-day free-agent splash in baseball history and transformed themselves into World Series contenders, spending $331.5 million on the game's most feared hitter and one of its top pitchers.

By noon, a bleary-eyed Dipoto was in the media work room to announce the deals.

Saturday, after one of the most grueling weeks in the lives of Dipoto and Lozano, who did not leave his Dallas hotel suite — once — in four days, the Angels introduced Pujols and Wilson before about 4,200 appreciative, chanting fans at a stadium news conference.

"We went post to post," Dipoto said. "We were running on excitement, adrenaline, a lot of Starbucks and not a lot of sleep."

That the Angels signed Wilson, an Orange County native and former Texas ace, was no surprise — they had pursued him aggressively since mid-November.

That the Angels signed Pujols to the second-richest contract in baseball history was stunning because they seemed to do in 48 hours what the Cardinals couldn't do in two years — sign Pujols to a long-term deal.

There is a perception the Angels stormed Lozano's suite, swooped in and swept Pujols away.

But Dipoto said he did "due diligence" on Pujols, as he did numerous free agents, after the season and had dinner with Lozano in November.

Though he didn't express serious interest in Pujols then, Dipoto knew it would take 10 years and well over $200 million to sign him.

"We are very blessed economically with a television package and supportive fans," Angels owner Arte Moreno said, alluding to a 17-year extension with Fox Sports that is worth between $2 billion and $2.5 billion. "We were hanging around the fringes on Albert."

It wasn't until last Tuesday night, after Miami pulled its lucrative offer to Pujols, that the Angels jumped into the fray.

"Jerry reached out to me at 8 p.m. Tuesday and said, 'Would you have time to talk Wednesday?' " Lozano said. "I said, 'About who?' He said, 'No. 5.' I got a big smile on my face."

Dipoto extended an initial offer the general manager said "was not substantially below" what Pujols signed for.

"Tuesday is when everything went to a different level," Dipoto said. "Arte made a decision. He wanted Albert."

That was clear to Lozano.

"From dollars to years, they were very aggressive," the agent said. "They knew exactly what they wanted to do."

Lozano and Dipoto spent all day Wednesday negotiating. The general manager spoke to Pujols on the phone twice. Moreno called Pujols on Tuesday night, but the focus wasn't on money; it was on family, community involvement, life after baseball.

"I didn't even know Arte, but he said he wanted me as a partner, wanted me in the family, and that means a lot," Pujols said. "It was amazing the way he approached me."

Moreno and his wife, Carole, spoke to Deidre Pujols, Albert's wife. Pujols appreciated that, unlike the Marlins, the Angels did not put a firm deadline on their offer.

Wednesday afternoon, Arte and Carole were in a Scottsdale, Ariz., theater watching a matinee of "Melancholia," the film about a mysterious new planet that threatens to collide into the Earth, when Lozano texted the Angels owner, saying Pujols wanted to talk.

What followed was a bit of Keystone Kops.

"I'm talking to [Lozano], thinking we're going to get this guy, and I ran out of phone battery," Moreno said.

The owner went into the theater to borrow his wife's phone. Then he went back to get the car keys from Carole so he could get his second phone.

Moreno offered to fly his private plane to St. Louis that night. That wasn't necessary, Lozano said. A conference call was set up with Pujols.

"Arte didn't see any of the movie," Carole said. "But that's when he found out this was going to happen. We were all pretty excited."

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