I’m not going to be too hard on Tony La Russa and Ron Washington.
All-Star managers can’t win when they round out their rosters. They’re boxed in by the fan and player votes, by the rule that every team must be represented and in Washington’s case, by the pressure to take your own players, which is greater than the average fan might think.
How are Reds right-hander Johnny Cueto, Brewers righty Zack Greinke and Braves center fielder Michael Bourn not on the National League roster?
How are Tigers center fielder Austin Jackson, White Sox right-hander Jake Peavy and either the Athletics’ Josh Reddick or Twins’ Josh Willingham not on the American League squad?
We can list additional snubs, but the issue is more the process — the process that invariably leads to screwy decisions, in part because of a trickle-down effect that occurs when the fans botch a few of their choices (hello, Pablo Sandoval and Dan Uggla).
Sandoval, who missed more than a month with a fractured hamate bone, was elected the NL third baseman over David Wright, leading to a snub of the Padres’ Chase Headley and inclusion of Padres closer Huston Street as that team’s only representative.
Uggla, batting .235 with a .777 OPS, was elected the NL’s second baseman, helping keep two more deserving players — the Diamondbacks’ Aaron Hill and Reds’ Brandon Phillips — off the team.
But we digress.
Cueto, the ace of the first-place Reds, fifth in the NL in ERA, is by far the most egregious snub. And you can’t accuse La Russa, who retired as Cardinals manager after last season, of pro-Cardinals or anti-Reds bias. He didn’t use any of his nine at-large picks on a Cardinals player. And one of his selections was Reds outfielder Jay Bruce. (You weren’t expecting La Russa to name his old friend Phillips, were you?)
Still, this isn’t that complicated.
La Russa should have taken Cueto over Bruce. He then could have named Greinke over Phillies lefty Cole Hamels and chosen another outfielder — Bourn — over Phillies closer Jonathan Papelbon.
The rules require only three relievers to be named to each team, and the NL already had exceeded its quota with the Braves’ Craig Kimbrel, Reds’ Aroldis Chapman, Pirates’ Joel Hanrahan and Street.
As for Hamels, he’s a huge name but only 18th in the NL in ERA. Having three Phillies is excessive (and two for the Cubs is worse, but first baseman Bryan LaHair’s inclusion resulted largely from the defections of Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder to the AL and the injuries to Ryan Howard and Lance Berkman).
Washington, left with only seven at-large picks, was in a slightly trickier position. Four of his spots went to the sole representatives of the Twins (catcher Joe Mauer), Royals (designated hitter Billy Butler), Athletics (reliever Ryan Cook) and Mariners (right-hander Felix Hernandez). His other three all went to players of his from the Rangers — shortstop Elvis Andrus, left-hander Matt Harrison and closer Joe Nathan.
True, the Rangers already had four other representatives — catcher Mike Napoli, center fielder Josh Hamilton and third baseman Adrian Beltre, who were elected by the fans, and second baseman Ian Kinsler, who was elected by the players.
Too bad — to the victors belong the spoils.
The Rangers, lest anyone forget, are the two-time defending AL champions. And it’s difficult to find fault with the selections of Andrus and Harrison, both of whom are quite deserving.
My quibble is Nathan, who, although a candidate for Comeback Player of the Year, joined the Rangers only this season. Peavy could have gone in Nathan’s spot; the AL, too, had already exceeded its relievers’ quota by one.
Jackson, Reddick or Willingham could have replaced Andrus — the AL already had Derek Jeter and Asdrubal Cabrera at shortstop. If the choice had been Reddick, Washington could have bumped Cook for one of the Angels’ relievers, either Ernesto Frieri or Scott Downs. But really, we’re getting to the nitpicking stage. Andrus is worthy, and that’s that.
Besides, although the new labor agreement requires players to participate unless they are injured or excused, we’ve already had two losses to injury: Yankees left-hander CC Sabathia and Dodgers center fielder Matt Kemp. Surely, others will follow, creating openings for some of the players who were snubbed.
All that is left, for now, is the Final Vote for the 34th spot on each roster. Jackson, Willingham and Reddick didn’t even make the AL ballot, which includes Peavy, Frieri, Rangers righty Yu Darvish, Orioles right-hander Jason Hammel and a home-cooking selection for Kansas City, Royals closer Jonathan Broxton. My choice would be Peavy. I’d bet on Darvish.
The NL ballot, meanwhile, might be the most intriguing ever. It includes the retiring Braves third baseman, Chipper Jones, and the Nationals’ 19-year-old outfielder, Bryce Harper. Each of the other three candidates — Bourn, Hill and Cardinals third baseman David Freese — also would be a legitimate choice.
The vote likely will come down to Jones vs. Harper, so I’ll leave you with a story from Dodgers team president Stan Kasten, who was the Braves’ president when Jones was a rookie in 1995.
Kasten asked Chipper what he was doing for the All-Star break. Chipper replied that he was going fishing. And Kasten told him, “It’s the last mid-summer break you’re going to have for a long time.” Sure enough, Jones was named to the All-Star Game in five of the next six years and seven times overall.
The point, of course, is that Harper will get his turn. And, much as I would love to see Harper and the Angels’ Mike Trout on the same field on opposing teams in Kansas City, Chipper deserves one last bow.
So, Chipper in the Final Vote, Bourn as the replacement for Kemp and Harper as the next player added when someone gets hurt.