KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Ron Washington and Tony La Russa have been spending most of their spare moments the past few days fidgeting with potential lineups for next week’s All-Star Game.
Of course, La Russa has had a little more time on his hands.
After managing the St. Louis Cardinals to the championship last season, La Russa shuffled off into retirement as a three-time World Series-winning manager. Such success normally means you’ll be asked to manage in the following year’s Midsummer Classic and, retired or not, La Russa was quick to say yes when he was approached about calling the shots in his sixth All-Star Game.
“There was never a ‘not’ side of it,” La Russa said Thursday. “I was excited, thrilled, honored to be asked. I have some past All-Star experiences as a coach, and as a manager, and I think it’s one of the best experiences you can have. As soon as I was asked, I said yes before the question was finished.”
La Russa will be only the second retiree to manage an All-Star team in the game’s 79-year history Tuesday night at Kauffman Stadium, and the first since John McGraw in 1933. He hasn’t regretted his decision, either, despite a couple of controversies that have arisen in the past few days.
He left Cardinals outfielder Matt Holliday off the NL roster, even though Holliday has been one of the hottest hitters in the game. The move earned the wrath of St. Louis fans who felt as if La Russa turned his back on his own guy — never mind the fact that he no longer manages the team.
There also was a brief flap with Cincinnati Reds manager Dusty Baker, who suggested that second baseman Brandon Phillips and pitcher Johnny Cueto were left of the NL team because of a melee between the Reds and Cardinals during the 2010 season. La Russa dismissed such a notion.
Then there are those who believe someone who has retired should not have such a massive impact on a game with significant ramifications for players and managers still involved. After all, the winner gets home-field advantage in the World Series.
La Russa should know the value of that. His Cardinals won three of the four games played at Busch Stadium last season, including Game 6 to stay alive and Game 7 to wrap up the title.
“This isn’t golf or tennis. This is a team, and each All-Star, if you put their hand on the baseball bible, they’d say, ‘Hey, use me however you think will win the game,’ because each team wants to win the game,” La Russa said. “In the end, as a manager or coach, you have to keep your heart pure, and do your best as a manager or a coach.”
That’s why La Russa has been spending a lot of his down time tinkering with lineups, when and where to insert substitutes, and even how he’ll catch knuckleballer R.A. Dickey of the Mets.
“You couldn’t write a bad lineup. These guys are all stars,” La Russa said. “But just to play around and see what the different combinations are, someone has to hit seventh, eighth and ninth, and that’s a difficult thing with these guys.”
Washington hasn’t had nearly as much time to ponder various scenarios.
He squeezed in a conference call with the media Thursday before leading Texas against the White Sox in the finale of a three-game series. The Rangers then head home for three games against Minnesota this weekend, before a huge contingent of them travels to Kansas City.
Along with the Rangers’ coaching staff, a club-record seven players will be on their way, including outfielder Josh Hamilton, who shattered the record for total votes. Third baseman Adrian Beltre, catcher Mike Napoli and second baseman Ian Kinsler also made it by vote, and Washington used three of his selections on shortstop Elvis Andrus and pitchers Matt Harrison and Joe Nathan.
“I’ve been sitting and playing with my lineups for three or four days, and I’ve changed it many times,” Washington said, “but when you look at it, you’re looking at a lineup of All-Stars.
“It’s difficult,” he said, “but in the meantime, it’s a lot of fun, and I’m more than certain by the time I’m ready to put it together finally, I’ll be more than happy with it.”
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