It was innocent.
But it was still impossible to ignore.
Jim Hendry is the general manager of the Chicago Cubs.
Albert Pujols, currently in the employ of the St. Louis Cardinals, is months away from signing an immense free-agent contract — even if he is hitting .248.
Cubs fans, who have not celebrated a World Series title since 1908, would love nothing more than to sign away the future Hall of Famer from their archrival. Pujols and the Cardinals halted contract talks after the sides were unable to reach a deal before he arrived at spring training.
On Tuesday at Wrigley Field, before their teams played for the first time this season, Hendry and Pujols exchanged hellos — and a hug — behind the batting cage.
The scene spawned any number of tweets and one-liners. (Did Hendry pat Pujols on the back twice, for $200 million? Or three times, for $300 million? Talks are under way, right?)
Hendry laughed about it during a playful exchange with reporters afterward.
“Same thing (as always): ‘How’s your son?’ ‘How are your kids?’” Hendry said. “I’m a little different. I’ve always gotten along with players. [Former Cardinals pitcher] Alan Benes and I are real close. I was Alan’s coach [in college]. Alan introduced me to him probably 10 years ago.”
When a reported suggested that Hendry rarely hugs other players, the GM laughed and said, “He hugged me first. He’s a lot bigger and stronger than me.”
Hendry added later: “I like Albert. We’ve always gotten along. Great, great player. I admire the heck out of him.”
Hendry pointed out that he also hugged former Cubs infielder Ryan Theriot, who now plays for the Cardinals.
“Twice,” Hendry clarified.
— Jon Paul Morosi