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Snub controversy looks bad for La Russa, Reds and Major League Baseball

By Scott Miller | Senior Baseball Columnist
At first blush, having Tony La Russa manage in the 2012 All-Star Game seemed like a good idea. (US Presswire)

LOS ANGELES -- Amid flaring tempers and snubbed All-Stars, Reds manager Dusty Baker is stone-cold accurate about one thing.

"A snub like that looks bad," Baker said Sunday in San Francisco.

There are a lot of people who think NL manager Tony La Russa, an arch-enemy of the Reds back when he piloted the Cardinals, is holding grudges against Brandon Phillips, Johnny Cueto, as well as Milwaukee's Zack Greinke.

This absolutely looks bad:

• For La Russa, who was in a nearly untenable position on this from the beginning. And now, he's either guilty of carrying out a reprehensible vindictiveness in retirement ... or he's a victim of ugly and baseless accusations that cut to his very character.

• For Major League Baseball, which is allowing a retired manager who now is an employee of the Commissioner's Office to manage a game that has a direct affect on World Series home-field advantage.

• For the Reds, who came across as petulant and small in the immediate aftermath of the All-Star results.

To their credit, the first-place Reds clammed up on the subject Monday in Dodger Stadium and began worrying about other things.

A Reds spokesman said Cueto, who shredded La Russa on Sunday, would have nothing more to say.

2012 All-Star Game


"I ain't saying anything," said Phillips, who has yet to comment on the matter.

Manager Dusty Baker said he has not spoken with La Russa. General manager Walt Jocketty, who worked closely with La Russa in St. Louis for 12 seasons, said he will talk with La Russa but intends to let things cool down for a few days first.

"It's a tough process," Jocketty said of choosing an All-Star team. "I know they do the best they can. I have nothing but the utmost respect for Tony and for the Commissioner's Office.

"Everybody needs to put this behind them and look forward. We have games to win. There will be a great classic next week for the fans.

"It's unfortunate this got to the level that it did."

Always a lightning rod as manager, La Russa and his Cardinals clashed at times with nearly every team in the NL Central. The Cardinals and Reds were involved in an ugly brawl in 2010 that started when Phillips called St. Louis names and tapped Yadier Molina's shin guard with his bat and continued to the point where Cueto kicked catcher Jason La Rue in the head, delivering a concussion that ended La Rue's career.

The Cards and Brewers also skirmished last year, during which Greinke called pitcher Chris Carpenter a "phony." There are angry people in Milwaukee certain that La Russa left Greinke (9-2, 2.82 ERA this year) off of the squad because of that.

Bottom line is, La Russa did not have free reign. Fact is, he had very few picks by the time the process was finished.

Fans voted for the starting lineups, and players vote for the next tier of All-Stars, choosing most of the reserves and pitchers.

Finally, the manager picks -- and his first task is to ensure that each of the 30 teams is represented. As colleague Danny Knobler wrote the other day, La Russa wound up making nine picks for the NL team -- but four of those had to go to clubs that were not yet represented (Rockies, Padres, Phillies and Diamondbacks). So he had five at-large picks to make, and he picked two Phillies (subtract one of Cole Hamels, Carlos Ruiz and Jonathan Papelbon as the Phillies' automatic pick), the Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw, Nationals shortstop Ian Desmond and Reds outfielder Jay Bruce.

Some in the Reds camp view La Russa as manipulative enough to pick Bruce as a way to cover himself by choosing a Red, which at the same time allowed him to stick it to Phillips and Cueto.

"From an individual aspect, it doesn't detract from it," Bruce, an All-Star last year, said of being ticketed for next week's game in Kansas City while some deserving teammates will be left behind, with much of Cincinnati seeing red about it. "From a team aspect, the way it represents the National League, the way it represents our team ... we're playing well, we're in first place, obviously our guys picked deserve it and a couple of our guys who were not picked are deserving.

"It's tough. Everyone has an opinion. I believe Brandon is as deserving as anyone, and I believe Johnny is, too."

Reds third baseman Scott Rolen, who played for La Russa in St. Louis from 2002-2007 before being traded to Toronto following a well-publicized clash with the manager, would not be drawn into the war of words.

"I don't have a public opinion on it," Rolen said.

Some in the game privately wondered after baseball invited La Russa to come out of retirement to manage the game whether he would cling tight to past grudges and bring them back into play.

"I can't imagine," Jocketty said. "Knowing Tony the way I've known him for all of these years, he has too much respect for the game to ever allow anything like that to happen."

While Cueto popped off, credit Phillips for staying close-mouthed. Because you know how this often plays out: There will be injuries over the next few days. There always are. And there is every chance that Phillips could be named as a replacement. And if he spends his time trash-talking La Russa, then what good does that do anybody? Especially if his number comes up for Kansas City?

No, a much better argument than the snubs is this: Should MLB be allowing a retired manager now unaffiliated with any club to work a game that directly affects World Series home-field advantage in the first place?

That is not a knock on La Russa or his integrity, because he's got plenty of collateral. And if these were the old days, then there would be no question, retired or active, that he should manage the All-Star Game.

But if you're going to tie the All-Star Game to the World Series, then this is only one more flaw in the system.

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