CARDS EXTRAS

La Russa's All-Star picks ignite war of words with Reds

2012-07-02T14:10:00Z 2012-07-09T21:45:29Z La Russa's All-Star picks ignite war of words with RedsBY RICK HUMMEL stltoday.com
July 02, 2012 2:10 pm  • 

The announcement of manager Tony La Russa's National League All-Star team Sunday bordered on the routine. For a few seconds, anyway.

The defending World Series champion Cardinals, whom La Russa managed last year before retiring, garnered four All-Star selections. Shortstop Rafael Furcal gained his first fans' vote honor, pitcher Lance Lynn earned an All-Star spot in his first full big-league season, right fielder Carlos Beltran was named a starter for the fifth time and catcher Yadier Molina was selected to his fourth All-Star squad in succession.

But in San Francisco, Cincinnati Reds manager Dusty Baker, upset that second baseman Brandon Phillips and starter Johnny Cueto weren't named to the NL club, spoke his mind and, all of a sudden, all the old scabs between Baker and La Russa were opened again.

Baker, as quoted by the Cincinnati Enquirer's website, said, "A snub like that looks bad. Johnny and Brandon were at the center of the (2010) skirmish between us and the Cardinals. Some of the Cardinals (read La Russa) who aren't there anymore are making some of the selections."

Cueto famously was at the center of a brawl in Cincinnati two years ago after Phillips, who earlier in the series had called the Cardinals "whiners," got into a disagreement with Molina as he came to bat in the first inning. In the course of the resultant brouhaha, Cueto, who was pitching that night, kicked Cardinals backup catcher Jason LaRue in the head.

"I don't know if they base their selection on the brawl," Cueto told Cincinnati reporters. "That's not the way it should be. ... They should pick and choose players by their numbers."

Cueto also tried to make a joke that didn't exactly turn out that way when he said, "I don't know if the manager of the All-Star Game is (ticked) at me because I went out with one of his girlfriends."

La Russa said he didn't think that particular idiotic remark even merited a response but, angrily, he had plenty to say about Baker's criticisms.

The non-selection of Cueto, he said, was because the righthander, who is 9-4 with a 2.26 earned run average, is slated to pitch next Sunday for the Reds and would be unavailable to pitch in an All-Star Game two days later. La Russa said he also removed Milwaukee's Zack Greinke (9-2) from consideration because he had been told Greinke would be pitching next Sunday.

"If Dusty had been more interested in Cueto being on the team, then he wouldn't be pitching him on Sunday," said La Russa, speaking exclusively to the Post-Dispatch.

"The comments Dusty made clearly disappoint me and are attacking my integrity. The All-Star experience is too important to let anything stand in the way of a decision like that. No way am I going to penalize anybody for any kind of past history. The fact is that Cueto is going to be pitching on Sunday. Some other day, he's probably on the team.

"Tell Dusty he can look in the mirror for Cueto not being on the All-Star team."

As for Phillips, La Russa's hands were tied somewhat because Houston's Jose Altuve surprisingly won the players' vote at that position and Dan Uggla of Atlanta won the fans' vote. La Russa added four position players to the team — catcher Carlos Ruiz of Philadelphia, Washington shortstop Ian Desmond, Florida right fielder Giancarlo Stanton and Cincinnati outfielder Jay Bruce.

"Maybe Dusty could let me know who he would like to take off the team to put Phillips on," said La Russa. "Which of these guys would he like me to kick off? I'd like to know that. There's a second baseman over in Arizona (Aaron Hill) who has credentials to be on the team.

"I don't take that kind of (bleep). That's typical ... (from Baker) and that's unacceptable. There's no question I did the right thing. I haven't been this ticked off since ... well, nothing."

Later in the evening, La Russa, in Aspen, Colo., attending the annual Aspen Ideas Festival, wasn't quite as angry as he had been earlier in the day, but certainly he was flummoxed by Baker's quoted remarks.

"I'm disappointed because he's been through the process," said La Russa, referencing Baker's managing the 2003 All-Star team.

"But I'm insulted that he would question the integrity of the choices I made. I thought he had a higher opinion of me than that. Evidently not."

La Russa did take Bruce over the Cardinals' Matt Holliday as a reserve for the July 10 game in Kansas City. In fact, La Russa, unlike many previous All-Star managers, selected nobody from his (former) team to the current 33-man squad.

Lynn and Molina were players' vote selections and Furcal and Beltran were voted in by the fans, although they would have been selected by the players, too.

Baker, asked by Cincinnati reporters if he would talk to La Russa said, "Too late now. What are we going to talk about now? If you're going to talk to me, you talk before. If they wanted my opinion, they would have asked. I'm sure it's not just Tony's decision."

Cardinals third baseman David Freese, the most valuable player in the league championship series and World Series last year, was named by La Russa as one of the five players on the National League ballot for a special Internet election to choose the 34th player.

The other players on that ballot are Atlanta outfielder Michael Bourn and third baseman Chipper Jones, Hill and Washington phenom Bryce Harper. That on-line voting will continue through Thursday.

In the American League, Los Angeles Angels first baseman Albert Pujols was not chosen, marking the second straight year he hadn't been picked to an All-Star team. Pujols was not selected as an All-Star in his final season with the Cardinals in 2011. He made the NL team in nine of his 10 other seasons with them.

The only late surprises in the NL balloting, largely caused by late Internet returns, were that San Francisco's Pablo Sandoval, who has been hurt for a considerable part of the season, surged past New York's David Wright at third base and that the Giants' Melky Cabrera led vote-getters in the outfield. In defense of that, Cabrera also leads the league in hits.

"Evidently, they put together an effective vote by the fans," La Russa said. "Dusty ought to get on the Cincinnati fans not voting Phillips in."

La Russa, who had nine manager's selections plus the one from the Internet voting to be conducted this week, made three of those selections from the Philadelphia Phillies in Ruiz, lefthander Cole Hamels and reliever Jonathan Papelbon.

The rosters are likely to change in the next week or so because of injuries. Los Angeles outfielder Matt Kemp, who has a hamstring ailment, may not be able to play.

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