With five days remaining until the All-Star Game, both managers have begun sketching out possible starting lineups and sequences of pitchers. One, however, has a little more free time than the other to do so.
After all, American League manager Ron Washington has another job. He helms the AL West-leading Texas Rangers. National League skipper Tony La Russa is retired, free to spend all his time on matters like how to split his left-handed hitters.
"It is fun to play around with the combinations," La Russa said. "I've had more time on my hands than Ron has. I've got a couple lineups and I've gone through some combinations, and what I'm going to wait and see is on Sunday I'm going to talk to the coaches, including Terry [Collins, Mets manager] and Ron [Roenicke, Brewers manager], and see what their opinion is about the way it stacks up. It's a fun thing, but you can't write a bad lineup with these guys."
Washington agreed with the last contention. He even suggested that ultimately it doesn't matter all that much, because the No. 9 hitter in an All-Star lineup is still a player who can do significant damage.
"It really doesn't matter because of the lineup that you're putting out there -- they all are All-Stars," Washington said.
Both managers acknowledged that they've given some thought to their starting pitchers, though neither was willing to tip his hand. Asked specifically about the Rays' David Price, Washington said the lefty is very near the top of his list. La Russa argued that all of the starting pitchers on his roster could be candidates, but also admitted there's a particular challenge to handling Mets knuckleballer R.A. Dickey.
There's no task in baseball quite like catching a knuckleball, so La Russa will want to make sure not only to deploy Dickey in the right inning, but with the right catcher.
"There is an issue about catching him and what spot to use him," La Russa said. "His season has gotten everybody's attention, including our staff's, and we're talking about the best way to win the game with the personnel, and how we use Dickey will be a part of that. But yes, that's been addressed. Dave [Duncan, La Russa's long-time pitching coach] and I especially have talked quite a bit about it. We have a plan that we hope to implement."
Another unique challenge in the All-Star Game is balancing the desire to win the game, with the goal of making sure every player appears. Both managers said that the latter is in fact one of their top priorities, but argued that the two aims aren't necessarily exclusive of one another.
"My intention is ... to try to get everyone in the game," Washington said. "I do think the flow of the game is going to determine how well you can do that in the situations that you're in. But these guys are All-Stars and I feel like it doesn't matter who you have out there. Each and every one of those guys you put out there, your chance of winning is just as great. That's why they're All-Stars."
For La Russa, the game will almost certainly be the last one he manages in a big league uniform, the capper on a career that dates back to 1963. Appropriately, he debuted in Major League ball as a member of the Kansas City Athletics, though his first big league game came in Minnesota. Still, he said he's thought a great deal about the symmetry involved.
"That definitely got my attention, the coincidence of it," La Russa said. "It's kind of hard to believe that it finishes that way. ... That's how you tie the bow, man. Great coincidence, and I'm trying to enjoy it."
As a result, he never hesitated when the idea was first brought up for the long-time manager to work one more game. Historically, the All-Star Game managers are the managers from the previous year's pennant-winners, but there was really no precedent for La Russa's situation. Once he was invited, though, he didn't have a second thought.
"There was never a 'not' side of it," he said. "I was actually excited, thrilled, honored to be asked. Had some past All-Star experiences as a coach and a few times as a manager, and I think it's one of the neatest experiences you can have, because you've got the best baseball players in the world on both sides. You get a chance to watch them work out for two days, and compete. Soon as I was asked, I said 'Yes' before the question was finished asking."
The 83rd Major League Baseball All-Star Game will be televised nationally by FOX Sports, in Canada by Rogers Sportsnet and RDS, and worldwide by partners in more than 200 countries via MLB International's independent feed. Pregame ceremonies begin at 7:30 p.m. (EDT)/6:30 p.m. (CDT). ESPN Radio and ESPN Radio Deportes will provide exclusive national radio coverage. MLB Network, MLB.com and Sirius XM also will provide comprehensive All-Star Game coverage.
Matthew Leach is a writer for MLB.com. Read his blog, Obviously, You're Not a Golfer and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewHLeach. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.