Here's an interesting piece of news that flew under a lot of radars amid Tuesday's flurry of impact signings.
From the office of commissioner Bud Selig came word that despite Tony La Russa's retirement as manager of the St. Louis Cardinals, the future Hall of Fame skipper would be allowed the opportunity to fulfill his pennant-winning duties as manager of the National All-Star squad this summer in Kansas City.
Admittedly, the announcement caught me a bit off-guard. I was already locked in to the assumption that the runnerup to the pennant— Milwaukee's Ron Roenicke— would be given the nod after La Russa stepped down on Oct 31. Under normal circumstances — which I believed included retirement — that would be the case. However, Selig declared La Russa's circumstances to be unusual, and thus he will join John McGraw — who returned to manage the National League in the first ever All-Star game back in 1933 — as the only retired managers to stand on the top step of a Midsummer Classic.
It's an interesting, historic, and perhaps even controversial decision depending on your viewpoint. But it's one that Selig had no trouble defending:
"Tony earned this opportunity with the remarkable run the Cardinals completed last October, and I am delighted that he shared my enthusiasm about staying in this role," Selig said in a statement. "The All-Star Game celebrates all the best of our game, and it is very appropriate that we will have the chance to celebrate one of the greatest managerial careers of all-time as a part of our festivities."
I may not have always agreed with the way La Russa conducted his business, but nobody could dispute the success he's had over his 33-year career, or that he's worthy of an honor bestowed upon only one manager before him. But unfortunately, that's not the only angle in play here. Unfortunately, we also have this little stipulation where the winning league in the All-Star game earns home-field advantage in the World Series. And unfortunately, because of that stipulation, we're left to question and over think what should simply be a kind gesture and a feel-good moment.
The All-Star game result matters. Maybe not to everybody. Maybe more to some contenders than others, but it does matter. And that's why this announcement is going to make people scratch their heads. An inactive manager with little to no investment in the outcome may even make a few people angry.
I would not be among those people, because I believe that even with the added importance, a manager's impact on the All-Star game outcome is minimal in comparison to that of a hotly contested regular season or postseason game. Beyond that, I know La Russa is coming to win the game whether it's early March, mid-July or late October. And to be honest, I think it's going to be a lot of fun with La Russa in the dugout, especially with Kansas City's close proximity to St. Louis and the amount of red we'll see in the stands. Plus, the possibility of him managing against Albert Pujols for the first (and maybe only) time.
But I can still understand the opposing view, and it's not one I could easily dismiss, either, because the All-Star game really shouldn't be something that can alter the direction of one's season while still being largely treated as an exhibition. It should just be the showcase it was designed to be 80 years ago, and it should always include moments on the field and in the dugout like what we'll have with Tony La Russa.
Nothing more to it. Nothing less. No more mixed signals.