ST. LOUIS — Now that we have our World Series participants, let's identify the Fall Classic's 10 most intriguing people:
1. Albert Pujols. Baseball's best player of the last 11 years, he'll become a free agent five days after the conclusion of the World Series. He has as strong a bond with St. Louis as does, say, Derek Jeter with the Bronx. Can he and the Cardinals avoid Jeter/Yankee-esque acrimony in upcoming negotiations? A great post-season so far gives Pujols additional leverage.
2. Tony La Russa. It was the March 12, 1990, cover of Sports Illustrated that identified La Russa, then managing Oakland, as "The Mastermind." That brought him a "genius" label he has passively and aggressively rejected but, after watching the Cardinals' rise in the last month, can anyone dispute that La Russa is one of the best all-time at what he does?
3. Nelson Cruz. The ALCS MVP began his professional career with the Mets, who traded him to Oakland for Jorge Velandia on Aug. 30, 2000. Don't feel too bad, Mets fans. The A's dumped him to Milwaukee in 2004, the Brewers traded him to the Rangers in 2006, and Texas still has him only because no one claimed him on waivers in 2008.
4. C.J. Wilson. Perhaps these last couple of weeks, you've caught his performance art piece: "Embodiment of a Plummeting Stock." The impending free agent has cost himself with three lousy post-season starts. He'll be well-paid regardless, given that so many teams (including the Yankees) need starting pitching, but he certainly can help his marketability with a strong Game 1 Wednesday night.
5. Nolan Ryan. The TV folks have grown to love him in his regal role, treating him like the Tom Coughlin of baseball when it comes to strong facial reactions. His influence on the actual team is overstated — contrary to mythology, the Rangers' minor-league teams do have pitch and innings limits — but his usurping of short-time CEO Chuck Greenberg ensured organizational stability.
6. Lance Berkman. Remember how disappointed Yankees fans were last year when the team declined his option for 2011? Wait, they weren't disappointed? Of course, they weren't. He looked done in pinstripes. Who knew he would rebound, at age 35, with one of the best seasons of his career? He teams with Pujols, Matt Holliday and David Freese to give St. Louis a very dangerous middle of the lineup.
7. Ron Washington. He makes his presence felt with eyebrow-raising moves such as his one-out, bases-empty intentional walk to Miguel Cabrera in ALCS Game 4. He isn't a by-the-book guy, and that goes for his player relations, too. Washington seems to naturally bond with his guys. He appears very comfortable in his own skin. He is, in short, the anti-Joe Girardi.
8. Mike Napoli. His manager with the Angels, former catcher Mike Scioscia, never seemed to appreciate him. And when the Angels dealt him to Toronto last winter, Texas quickly traded for him and brought Napoli right back into the AL West, giving the Scioscia-Napoli relationship a Darth Vader-Luke Skywalker vibe. As we've seen, Napoli can hit, and he isn't bad behind the plate, either.
9. Jon Daniels. When Rangers fans cheer him at functions, Daniels has been known to respond, "Hey, I'm still the guy who traded Adrian Gonzalez." He made a few bad trades when he took over Texas in October 2005 but, granted freedom by former owner Tom Hicks, he has completely remade this franchise into one of the industry's elite teams.
10. Al Roker. Pitching dominated the MLB regular season, then yielded to offense in the post-season. The weather, however, continues to be offensive, postponing one game (ALCS Game 2), suspending another (Yankees-Tigers ALDS Game 1), and delaying a third (ALCS Game 4). The good news: There's no rain on the horizon in either city. The bad news? It'll be near-freezing cold in St. Louis this week.