07/09/07 8:59 PM ET
AL's Leyland not playing favorites
Tigers hitting at bottom of lineup, but local star Haren to pitch
By Jason Beck / MLB.com
"I put all of the Tigers down at the bottom of the order so nobody could say that I was favoring the Tigers," Jim Leyland said half-jokingly. "I actually wanted to hit them 1-2-3, but I didn't think I could get away with it."
When Leyland managed the National League All-Stars in 1998, he didn't have to worry about favorites. His Marlins were in the last stages of their championship breakup, and the only All-Star from his club was Edgar Renteria. Now, his Tigers comprise five of his American League All-Stars, three of them in the starting lineup, and they're one half-game out of the best record in baseball after sweeping the Red Sox over the weekend.
Combine the players with the coaching staff, and the Tigers have their largest contingent at the Midsummer Classic since 1985, the last time they were coming off a World Series berth. That in itself is a reward for Detroit, Leyland believes. But he's been through enough games with smaller-market, lesser-represented teams to know that it's a reward shared around the league, not just the teams with the players or the popularity.
The only hint of favoritism he showed was of the local variety when he picked Tuesday night's starting pitcher, who happens to make his living pitching across the bay.
"He's certainly deserving," Leyland said of Oakland's Dan Haren. "That's No. 1. And No. 2, he pitches right across the bay. I think people will get a kick out of that. If [the game] had been in Detroit, I'd have started [Justin] Verlander. If it were in Boston, I'd have started [Josh] Beckett. If it had been in Southern California, I'd have started [John Lackey]. That's what I ended up saying. You can't go wrong with any of them."
As he pointed out in the same breath, it wasn't simply about playing hometown favorites. After looking at the statistics over the season as a whole and the last month in particular, what made Haren stand out from others was his league-best 2.30 ERA and 17 quality starts in 19 outings. He won't pitch deep enough in this game to worry about a quality start, of course, but those numbers left an impression.
The decision process was part of a job that Leyland has taken very seriously. It's not getting any easier for him now that the lineup is set. In some ways, he sounded like someone who was borrowing a luxury car for the weekend and was being careful not to crash it.
"Like I was saying at the press conference today, this is a tricky 24 hours for a manager," Leyland said. "You're dealing with [other teams'] players and your own players, guys who have a lot of big second halves to the season. It's not totally fun."
While Alex Rodriguez appears ready to go and will start, Leyland wasn't ready to say that definitively of his second baseman. Though Placido Polanco said he'll be able to start despite a flareup in his back Saturday, Leyland was "holding his breath" that he can play. He'll trust Polanco's judgment on whether he can go, and trust that he won't put his season at risk for his first All-Star start.
The only other second baseman on the roster is Baltimore's Brian Roberts, but Leyland has two reserve shortstops on the roster with Michael Young and Carlos Guillen. One of them could finish out the game at second, Leyland said, if Polanco can't play or is limited to an inning or two.
"So far that looks like a good move," Leyland said of taking the extra shortstop, "because we might've been short."
His refusal to play favorites also might have factored into his outfield decision. When deciding whether to move Vladimir Guerrero or Magglio Ordonez from right field to left for the start, Leyland went with the guy he knew could make the move. That said, he doesn't expect it'll be a big adjustment once Ordonez takes some fly balls in left during workouts.
He's thinking like a manager for the league, not just the Tigers. That doesn't mean he couldn't still think like a game manager once in a while. The fans selected the starting lineup, and he thought the batting order wasn't hard to fill out. He could've arguably put Polanco in his usual second spot, but not over Derek Jeter. He could've flip-flopped Ordonez and Guerrero in order, but decided against it.
Still, he couldn't help but notice in passing how heavily right-handed his lineup looked. He arguably has more versatility later in the game with switch-hitting reserves Roberts, Guillen, Jorge Posada and Victor Martinez.
And in the end, though he won't play favorites, he has a lot of familiar faces from his full-time club.
"I think we're well-represented, from the management -- which is the least important -- to the players, which is the most important. I'm proud to have brought my staff here. I think they're having a good time. We'll try to make it a nice event, but like I said, there's a lot of pressure. I'm not talking about pressure to win the game. I have to watch guys, make sure you don't get somebody up too much or fool with anybody's health."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.