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McKeon thinking Barry early
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07/08/2004  4:14 PM ET
McKeon thinking Barry early
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Jack McKeon has a track record of being unconventional to get a competitive edge. (Brian Bahr/Getty Images)

MIAMI -- National League All-Star manager Jack McKeon didn't tip his hand regarding whether Roger Clemens will start in Tuesday's Midsummer Classic at Houston's Minute Maid Park.

But the unpredictable 73-year-old cigar-chomping skipper did toss out one possible twist regarding his starting lineup.

Half-jokingly, McKeon said on a national conference call Thursday that he might lead off Barry Bonds, giving the American League something to think about in the first inning.

"You rotten thing," American League manager Joe Torre of the Yankees told McKeon in a light-hearted exchange on the call. "Well there will always be a base open in the first inning, that's for sure."

In the past, Torre noted that Hall of Famer Willie Mays, Bonds' godfather, led off in an All-Star Game.

Asked if he was serious about having the Giants' slugger lead off, McKeon said: "No, I was just kidding."

Then, McKeon left the door open, saying: "Barry batted leadoff a lot of times when he was with Pittsburgh. Well, it's food for thought."

Considering how frequently Bonds is intentionally walked, getting the star left fielder at the top of the order isn't so far-fetched. The idea actually has been discussed among the Marlins coaching staff over the past few days. Six Marlins coaches along with McKeon will be on the National League staff.

McKeon has a track record of being unconventional to get a competitive edge. Leading off the most feared batter in the game will have the American League weighing its options.

"Barry is a tremendous player," McKeon said. "He's the one guy in this game who can turn the game around any time at-bat. And I know people don't like to see the managers walk him. But we have a job to do as well. And our job is to win ballgames. And here's probably the only single guy in baseball, who I can think of, who can beat you in so many ways. I think it's certainly a tribute to Barry for being such an outstanding player, that at times he gets frustrated and the fans get frustrated as well, but I think all the managers show him tremendous respect for his ability."

In the early innings, at least, Torre said the American League will pitch to Bonds.

"I will not say that there will be no circumstances, but I'm not sure Barry Bonds will be in there in the ninth inning, if he starts the game," Torre said. "Early in the game, I will not do it. If it comes down to the last inning, or something like that in a tie game, I think I might be forced to do it, just trying to win the game.

"But for the most part, if first base is open early in the game and he's going to be the hitter, I don't think the fans came to see somebody put four fingers up. We will have All-Star against All-Star."

Which star starts for the National League remains unannounced, although most speculation has McKeon leaning towards going with Clemens.

The legendary Rocket is having a sensational season, and the fact he's with the Astros, makes his starting not just sentimental but appropriate. Also weighing in Clemens' favor is the fact Giants right-hander Jason Schmidt is pitching on Sunday.

"I haven't made a decision yet," McKeon said. "I'm trying to figure out from some of the managers the situations with their pitchers. We've got some pitching on Saturday and some pitching on Sunday. I want to see which way we will go."

McKeon expected to get Giants manager Felipe Alou's opinion on Thursday.

"I have to take into consideration the manager's thoughts and certainly this game is very important to both leagues," McKeon said. "But on the other hand, you have to be concerned with the player himself. I certainly am not going to do anything to the player to jeopardize the player or the manager of that ballclub as well."

Because the game is in Houston, McKeon said, doesn't automatically make Clemens the choice.

"I don't think being from Houston is going to factor into the decision," McKeon said. "I've got a number of guys worthy of being the starting pitcher. It's going to be a tough decision."

If Clemens does get the nod, it creates an interesting scenario where he would pitch to Mets catcher Mike Piazza. The two have had bad blood stemming back a few years.

"I think both of those guys are professionals," McKeon said. "We all have a purpose in Houston, and that's to win. I'm quite sure both of them are going to handle it very professionally."

Other unsettled issues regarding the National League squad are: finding a replacement for Reds first baseman Sean Casey, who is on the disabled list, and deciding on what to do with Astros outfielder Carlos Beltran.

Casey's replacement should be announced by Friday.

Beltran was selected by the American League players as a reserve, but he has since been traded to the National League.

"I think he's a great player and I think he should be in the All-Star Game as well," McKeon said. "He was selected by the players in the American League. Then he got transferred to the National League. I certainly feel he has the credentials to be on one of the teams."

Joe Frisaro is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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