Angels reach Albert Pujols on a personal level

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.”

Around dinner time Wednesday, Dipoto got the sense Pujols was leaning toward Anaheim. But this was no easy decision for the slugger, a St. Louis icon who has deep roots in the community, who thanked Cardinals fans “for making me the man I am today.”

Pujols and his wife, both deeply spiritual, prayed on the decision Wednesday night. By Thursday morning, Pujols said he felt Anaheim “was where God was leading me.”

Deidre’s head was spinning.

“There are so many adjectives to describe our feelings — we were brokenhearted and delighted at the same time,” she said. “We realize there’s a lot of hurt in St. Louis. That wasn’t our intention.”

At 7:30 a.m. Dallas time Thursday, Pujols phoned his agent.

“He woke up with clarity,” Lozano said. “He said, ‘The Angels are tugging at my heart. That’s where I want to go. Get it done.’ ”

An hour and a half later, Lozano called Dipoto with the news, slipped out a back entrance of the hotel to avoid the media and headed to the airport.

Lozano resurfaced with his star client Saturday at Angel Stadium, where Pujols was grilled on why he turned down a 10-year, $210-million offer from the Cardinals and a chance to end his Hall-of-Fame career in St. Louis.

Certainly, the money and a full no-trade clause were factors, but so was a 10-year personal services commitment, which calls for the slugger to work for the Angels in several capacities — a consultant to Moreno, an on-field instructor at spring training — after he retires.

“I think Arte was able to touch a part of Albert’s heart,” Lozano said. “He made him feel wanted, that this wasn’t just a business decision, that it was something very personal for Albert. That was something Albert wanted to hear.”