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Anybody heard from the two grumpy old men lately?
No, I’m not talking about Walter Matthau or Jack Lemmon. This made-by-the-media beauty of a movie stars retired major-league manager Tony La Russa, 67, and Reds skipper Dusty Baker, 63.
In case you missed it, La Russa gets to manage the National League All-Stars on Tuesday because he won last year’s pennant with the St. Louis Cardinals.
So what does the old joker do but smile and snub Reds pitcher Johnny Cueto and second baseman Brandon Phillips. No, sirs, La Russa says, not on my team.
Cueto and Baker both voiced their displeasure about the moves, or lack thereof, claiming it was La Russa acting in spite of the 2010 Reds-Cardinals brawl. The scrap started with Brandon Phillips, included a nose-to-nose confrontation with La Russa and Baker and was low-lighted by Cueto kicking Cardinals catcher Jason LaRue in the head.
LaRue never played again. It appears La Russa snubbed Cueto and Phillips to settle the score.
But La Russa denied the accusations, saying Cueto, who ranks fifth in the National League with a 2.35 ERA, would’ve made the team if Baker wouldn’t have planned to start him this Sunday, two days before the midsummer classic in Kansas City, Mo.
La Russa’s brilliance continues to shine even in his twilight years, this coming from a lifelong Cubs fan. The four-time Manager of the Year played chess with Baker and said checkmate.
La Russa had a sound counter argument ready, like all good bickerers do, one that rationalized the decision to snip Cueto by turning the tables on Baker. He’s basically saying, “Hey, don’t look at me. Dusty did it.”
After all, what good manager wants to pitch a pitcher on one day’s rest? Even Baker, who’s notorious for burning out such flamethrowers as former Cubs Mark Prior and Kerry Wood, wouldn’t want to be signaling for Cueto on Tuesday. Not when the game matters.
The funny thing is, La Russa and Baker were both right.
Cueto probably should have been an All-Star over the likes of Diamondbacks pitcher Wade Miley and Cardinals righty Lance Lynn, both of whom have higher ERAs. Phillips probably should have been an All-Star for hitting about .280 and being on pace for about 20 home runs, 100 RBIs and 100 runs.
Instead, the Braves’ Dan Uggla and the Astros’ Jose Altuve got the nods at second base.
But, hey, don’t look at La Russa.
As long as the fans keep voting in players like Uggla, who is flirting with the Mendoza line (.200 batting average), and as long as Major League Baseball requires every team, even lowly ones, to be represented, deserving players are going to be left off the All-Star team.
Instead of griping at each other, Baker and La Russa need to be in the ear of baseball commissioner Bud Selig. Selig needs to decide whether the All-Star game counts for something. If it does, fans need not vote, ex-managers need not manage, and all teams need not to be represented.
But, for the time being, Baker and La Russa will continue verbally spatting at each other, creating good drama for all. They may not make it to Broadway like Larry Bird and Magic Johnson. But it’s nothing short of “Grumpy Old Men.”
Jess Huffman is sports editor of The Republic. He can be reached at 379-5632 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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