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National Columnist

La Russa blocking Cueto from All-Star Game is bad, but lying about why is worse

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It's no secret that La Russa and the Reds have a history of bad blood. (Getty Images)  
It's no secret that La Russa and the Reds have a history of bad blood. (Getty Images)  

CINCINNATI -- See the dateline here? That's right, Cincinnati. It's where I live. Where I eat.

Where Tony La Russa kicked over an anthill, then scurried off and hid behind a lie.

La Russa, manager of the National League All-Star team, didn't pick Reds ace Johnny Cueto for the NL squad and then lied about his reasoning. It's the lie that gets me, the outright cowardice La Russa showed after doing what he did -- which was pretty cowardly, too, come to think of it.

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It would be one thing for La Russa -- if he still managed the Cardinals -- to draw this very deep line in the sand and say to Cueto and to the world, "After what happened in 2010, you can't pitch on my team." It would be a bold move for the manager of the Cardinals, given that his team would play Cueto's team 15 times this season, and next season, and every season, as members of the NL Central. La Russa wants to take on Cueto? Fine. It's on. But Cueto gets to take on La Russa eventually.

But this way? Keeping Cueto out of the game when La Russa is safely retired? Nonsense. That's like an American League pitcher throwing at an American League hitter, knowing he's safe -- thanks to the designated hitter -- of facing retribution.

Gutless.

But La Russa won't admit it. Look, if he'd come out and said he did what he did for the reason we all know he did it, I'd applaud him. Imagine La Russa saying something like this:

"Damn right I didn't pick Cueto because of what happened in 2010. And he better hope I'm not the National League's manager again, because I'm never picking him."

Say that, and I'd love it. It would be mean and possibly unfair, but dammit it would be a strong move. It would be straight from the heart, and more than that, it would be understandable.

Look, what Johnny Cueto did in 2010 was indefensible. I don't know a single Reds fan who approves of what happened that day, when Cueto -- finding himself in a bad position during a benches-clearing brawl, elevated against the backstop -- lashed out with his spikes, kicking anything in a Cardinals uniform. Cueto's cleats found St. Louis pitcher Chris Carpenter's back and St. Louis catcher Jason LaRue's head. LaRue suffered a concussion.

LaRue never played again.

So if this is payback for LaRue, well, I'd understand it. Payback is a b----. Instead, La Russa says this isn't payback, which means La Russa is a ...

Liar.

I mean, really. Don't urinate on Johnny Cueto and tell him it's raining.

Before All-Star rosters were set, Cueto seemed more likely to start the game than to be left off the roster. That's how good his first half has been. He ranks among NL leaders in some of the biggest old-school categories -- wins (sixth), ERA (third), innings (third), complete games (second) -- and ranks even higher in the newer ones. He's second among NL pitchers in WAR, and first in adjusted ERA. By any reasonable measure, Cueto has had an All-Star first half.

Just not by La Russa's measure.

Not by other measures, too, it must be said. The players didn't vote Cueto into the game, either. Point taken.

But that was a mistake by the players -- again, based on his performance in the first half of the season, Cueto is more deserving of being the NL starter than of being left off the whole damn roster -- and it was a mistake La Russa had the power to rectify.

He didn't, and then he made it worse -- this is the reason I'm writing this story, in fact -- by trying to do what La Russa always tries to do: He tried to outsmart the world, and it didn't work. And listen, La Russa is a smart guy. Very smart. He's smarter than most people, myself included, but the mistake he tends to make is to assume he's smarter than everybody.

And he's not. So when La Russa volunteered that the reason he left Cueto off the team was because Cueto was scheduled to start Sunday, two days before the All-Star game -- and therefore would be unavailable to pitch Tuesday night -- he was caught with his own words.

Because baseball's Collective Bargaining Agreement addresses that very situation, referring to it as the "Sunday pitcher rule" and allowing for the All-Star manager to pick a player such as Cueto and then remove him from the active roster -- with all the status and honor of an All-Star -- and replace him with someone who would be available.

La Russa didn't do that, and worse, blamed Reds manager Dusty Baker for Cueto's predicament.

"If Dusty had been more interested in Cueto being on the team, then he wouldn't be pitching him on Sunday," La Russa said. "Cueto probably would be on the team if he wasn't pitching Sunday."

At first glance that made sense to me, but then, La Russa's smarter than me. But he's not smarter than everyone, and someone out there -- someone smarter than La Russa -- pointed out the "Sunday pitcher rule" in the CBA. And when that bit of lie-detecting information made its way back to La Russa in the St. Louis media, La Russa made it worse.

"I know the rule," said La Russa, tersely.

Well then, which is it, Tony? Either you left off Cueto because he's pitching Sunday, or you didn't. Either you left off Cueto for some other reason, like payback for Jason LaRue, or you didn't.

Someone's lying here, Tony -- and you're the only one talking.


Gregg Doyel is a columnist for CBSSports.com. He covered the ACC for the Charlotte Observer, the Marlins for the Miami Herald, and Brooksville (Fla.) Hernando for the Tampa Tribune. He was 4-0 (3 KO's!) as an amateur boxer, and volunteers for the ALS Association. Follow Gregg Doyel on Twitter.
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