Figures, right? Tony La Russa was back in the managing racket for about five minutes when all holy horsehide hell broke loose.
It happened last week when La Russa -- who was extended the invitation to manage the National League All-Stars even after his retirement as the Cardinals' manager last autumn -- revealed his choices to fill out the N.L. roster for Tuesday night's game.
Almost immediately, Cincinnati manager Dusty Baker accused La Russa of perpetrating a quasi-vendetta against two Reds players who weren't selected because they had brawled against the Cardinals two years ago. Much folderol ensued. It was just like old times for the uber-competitive La Russa.
So I had to ask him. Did the flap cause La Russa to miss being in the trenches this season? Or did it make him more glad not to be there?
"It's a reminder," La Russa said from his home in the East Bay, before pausing and adding: "A bad reminder."
Guess that answers the question.
In La Russa's view, a veteran manager such as Baker, who knows how the All-Star roster system works and has managed an All-Star team himself (in 2003), should show more respect for the process.
"It's really disappointing," LaRussa said. "If you want one of your players to be on the team who isn't on there ... that's understandable and happens all the time. You can always disagree. But not to the point of personalizing it ... It's a cheap shot. ... Enough's enough."
Even so, it comes as no surprise to learn that LaRussa is totally jazzed about drawing up the lineup card when he gets to Kansas City. And on some level, you have to believe he's digging the overheated fuss. No manager in baseball became more engulfed in the batter-by-batter battle or adhered more fundamentally to the game's unwritten code than La Russa. That's one reason he stood third on the all-time managerial victory list when he stunned people by announcing his exit after the Cardinals' triumph in the World Series.
So far, no regrets.
"I would say I'm really feeling good about the decision," LaRussa said.
Tuesday, he will become only the second retired manager to lead an All-Star team. The previous one was John McGraw in 1933, when the event was played for the first time. McGraw and Connie Mack are the only two managers with more career wins than La Russa's 2,728.
Expect no comeback. The 67-year-old La Russa says that there are certain things he misses about being away from the game on a daily basis, but "not the dugout." He also joked that after a few weeks of being retired at home, his wife put a suitcase on the front porch and suggested he go back out on the road for a while.
Fortunately, Major League Baseball is allowing him to do that. Commissioner Bud Selig has employed La Russa on an idea-building project to improve the sport -- both in terms of potential rules changes and off-field standards. La Russa estimates he has been to 50 games this season (and sheepishly concedes to occasionally leaving early so he can beat traffic). He also has expressed a desire to eventually be employed by a team in a front-office capacity. His current gig might serve as prep work.
Meanwhile, La Russa will be back in managerial action Tuesday. Don't be surprised if his Reds-related squabble surfaces again. It would be great if Baker, an honorable guy, could eventually look La Russa in the eye and hash out their differences. La Russa doesn't believe that will happen. And he's not backing down.
You know what makes this so silly? La Russa was allowed to pick only nine men on the 34-man roster. Fans voted for the starters and the 34th man. Other roster spots were selected by players and coaches. And yet Baker implied that La Russa dissed two worthy Reds players -- pitcher Johnny Cueto and second baseman Brandon Phillips -- because of their roles in the 2010 fracas with the Cardinals. Cueto was suspended seven games for kicking St. Louis players. Phillips taunted the Cardinals by calling them "whiners." Baker and La Russa were suspended two games.
"A snub like that looks bad," Baker told reporters. "Johnny and Brandon were at the center of a skirmish between us and the Cardinals. Some of the Cardinals who aren't there anymore are making some of the selections."
This was La Russa's retort: "If Dusty had been more interested in Cueto being on the team, then he wouldn't be pitching him on Sunday."
You can't read anyone's mind. But everyone knows La Russa's competitive DNA. The stakes might be minor Tuesday -- home-field advantage in the World Series -- but La Russa will be in his usual winning-is-everything mode. And it's hard to believe he would pass up picking someone who could help the National League do that.
And here's what you also need to know: La Russa is not without a sense of whimsy and humility about the situation. He can tell you about his first experience as an All-Star manager in 1989, when he was with Oakland and in the American League dugout.
"I remember I worked my butt off beforehand to check out every possibility and pick the best guys for the roster," La Russa said. "And we did win the game. But here's the punch line: Bret Saberhagen of Kansas City won the Cy Young that year. Robin Yount of the Brewers won the MVP. And I left them both off the All-Star team."