07/07/05 4:12 PM ET
Francona, La Russa handling business
Red Sox skipper a newcomer, gets All-Star advice
By Doug Miller / MLB.com
The Boston Red Sox skipper, who earned the helm of the American League team for the 76th All-Star Game in Comerica Park in Detroit by guiding his team to the World Series title last year, has been working hard digesting all the rules and regulations of making up an always-controversial roster.
On Sunday night, he emerged with his 31-man roster, on Wednesday he found out that Scott Podsednik was voted in by fans as his 32nd and final man, and on Thursday morning he and National League manager Tony La Russa spoke on a conference call with the media.
Both managers said the selection of their teams was an exhausting process but that they were comforted by thoughts of how much fun the weekend -- and game -- will be.
"I hope we haven't gotten to the most rewarding part yet," Francona said. "It's been very trying. It's been a grueling process."
That process changed drastically starting in 2003, when a separate ballot for managers, coaches, and players -- called the Player Ballot -- began being conducted by Major League Baseball during the final week of fan voting to select an additional nine position players in the AL, and eight in the NL and eight pitchers in each league (five starters and three relief pitchers).
The managers, in consultation with the Commissioner's Office, now select the final six AL spots (four pitchers and two position players) and eight NL spots (four pitchers and four position players).
In addition, eight positional "backups" and seven pitchers for each roster are then selected by a panel including managers and players. Eight more reserves, either position players or pitchers, are added by MLB to bring rosters to 31, leaving room for the Ameriquest Final Vote, which was won by Podsednik and starter Roy Oswalt of the Houston Astros.
As always, all 30 MLB teams will have at least one representative in the All-Star Game, and, as usual, it was a tough task for the managers to put it all together.
La Russa spoke of a time in the early 1980s when he was the manager of the Chicago White Sox and he had conversations with former AL skippers Sparky Anderson and John McNamara about what was then an entirely different selection process.
"Veterans like Sparky and Johnny Mac were telling me how difficult it was because you picked the starting pitchers and the reserves," La Russa said. "I thought that was tough. It's easier this way."
Not necessarily for Francona, though.
The Red Sox manager is a newcomer to this game and La Russa, the St. Louis Cardinals skipper, is an old hand. La Russa is a five-time manager of the year, was the AL manager in the 1989, 1990 and 1991 Midsummer Classics while piloting the Oakland A's, and coached for the NL All-Star team under Dusty Baker in 2003.
In other words, La Russa's got a lot of knowledge about the process and game management that Francona could use. And quick.
"I actually went to Tony to get a little advice," Francona said. "You want to do it right and appropriately. It's very, very difficult and almost unfair [to exclude deserving players].
"I'm learning on the fly with a lot of help from some good coaches. You need experience and I don't have any experience."
Francona had a particularly difficult time excluding two of his own players -- starter Matt Clement and reliever Mike Timlin. He said Clement will be the first alternate pitcher selected for the AL team if an injury keeps a player out of the game.
La Russa's already had to make a similar call, selecting Philadelphia Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins and Phillies closer Billy Wagner to replace Cesar Izturis and Pedro Martinez.
Another issue La Russa had to work through was being careful not to pick too many of his own players for the game.
As it turned out, Cardinals shortstop David Eckstein, center fielder Jim Edmonds and third baseman Scott Rolen were all voted in as starters, with Albert Pujols, Chris Carpenter and Jason Isringhausen also named to the squad.
But other Cardinals with deserving numbers -- starter Matt Morris was the prime example -- were left off the NL roster, and La Russa said it seemed to make sense.
"It's the National League All-Star Team," La Russa said. "We felt six Cardinals was really heavy, actually."
A heavy topic in Thursday's call was the ongoing saga of Texas Rangers starter Kenny Rogers, who was voted in by the players to the All-Star Game and is eligible to pitch despite the fact that Rogers was recently suspended 20 games by MLB for a physical confrontation with TV cameramen before a recent Rangers game.
Rogers has appealed the suspension, which makes him eligible, and both managers were in agreement that they have to honor the letter of the law.
"He is by rule allowed to participate in the All-Star Game," Francona said. "If he decides to pull out of the All-Star Game for obvious reasons, that is something I would obviously respect."
And while both managers said they disagree with the rule that states that the winner of the All-Star Game earns home-field advantage for the World Series, they agreed that it certainly has changed the intensity level of the game.
"For a while, the emphasis on the home run contest was more than the game itself and the game lost a little luster and became kind of an exhibition," La Russa said. "So when they added home-field (advantage), there was an extra edge there. ... It is significant having home-field."
"Guys compete," Francona added. "They love to compete. They're here for a reason.
"They're pretty special. So once they get out on the field, they'll play."
Doug Miller is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.