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Rigging the lineup for Roger

Posted: Tuesday, July 15, 2003

One man's strategy is another man's shenanigans.

There's gamesmanship going on at the All-Star game, now that it's worth more than mere bragging rights, and both sides are jockeying for an edge.

The first bit of mischief came Monday when National League manager Dusty Baker slipped Barry Bonds into the designated hitter spot.

''I'm not quite sure if he knows he's DH-ing yet,'' Baker said with a smile when he unveiled the lineup.

Since Bonds was voted to the team as a starting outfielder, Baker wasn't sure he could move him to DH. That required a ruling from the commissioner's office, and executive vice president for baseball operations Sandy Alderson gave his OK.

That surprised American League manager, Mike Scioscia, Baker's old buddy on the Los Angeles Dodgers, who calls Baker ''the most competitive person I've ever met.''

''I didn't hear anything about this,'' Scioscia said. ''Barry is supposed to play left field, isn't he? ... We might have to investigate some of this.''

If Scioscia feigned outrage, there was more than a little curiosity minutes later when word came that the New York Yankees' Roger Clemens was flying in from his home in Texas to join the AL bullpen in place of Oakland left-hander Barry Zito.

Alderson had to give the nod to that move, too, and he went along, saying Zito was unable to pitch on one day's rest. Everybody on Oakland agreed on that the general manager, the manager and the pitching coach except Zito. He found out he was off the team while he was giving interviews with other All-Stars in a hotel ballroom.

''If I had some black-and-white explanation, it would make more sense,'' Zito, the reigning AL Cy Young Award winner, said. He added that he certainly could pitch even after throwing 106 pitches on Sunday in the A's 1-0 win at Baltimore.

''It has nothing to do with me or my physical situation,'' Zito said.

As much as it makes sense for baseball to want Clemens, the only six-time Cy Young winner, at one last All-Star game before he retires at the season's end, the last-minute change had the whiff of a Cook County election rigged to bring in Roger the ringer.

Zito was embarrassed, and baseball should be, too, for putting him in that position.

Baseball has been puffing up the All-Star game into a midsummer extravaganza, surrounding it with days of festivities, the Home Run Derby, a celebrity game and other PR stunts. Throw in the new rule that the game also will decide home field advantage in the World Series, and the whole affair seems bigger than it really is.

Every move by the managers will be scrutinized more than ever, and little things can wind up having an impact on the sport's premier event in the fall.

Baseball wanted more attention and it's getting it, with suspicions all around.

''You can tell, Scioscia doesn't trust me too much out there,'' Baker said about his move of Bonds to DH and St. Louis' Jim Edmonds to center.

With the game in an AL park and the DH rule in effect, Baker wanted as strong a hitter as he could find for that role, while also strengthening the defense. None of the NL outfielders voted to the starting lineup Bonds, Gary Sheffield or Albert Pujols was a center fielder.

''We're told to win the game,'' Baker said. ''I need a bona fide center-fielder in there to start this game.''

Baker said he approached Bonds ''indirectly'' about the change and got his approval.

''Barry's hard to catch, man,'' Baker said. ''But I did call and ask if he would mind. Tony La Russa, being one of the coaches, had mentioned to me about Albert Pujols (being DH) because of his injury. I wanted, out of respect to Barry, to give him the first opportunity because there's probably a good chance that he's hurting somewhere, too.''

Bonds happily accepted the change, noting that he's nearly 39 and could use the rest.

''It's about time they paid attention to seniority,'' he said. ''We didn't have a center fielder the way it was picked.''

When asked about the addition of Clemens to the AL roster, Bonds said it was good for the game to see longtime stars honored with an invitation.

''When I got to see Cal Ripken and Tony Gwynn toward the end of their careers and still be there (two years ago), what a way to go,'' Bonds said. ''I wish baseball would treat Rickey Henderson the same way for what he's done. I hope he gets to come back and retire the way he deserves to retire, just like all the rest of the greats have been able to do.''

Stay tuned. If one of the teams needs a pinch-runner, maybe they'll call up Henderson from Newark at the last minute. It's the kind of PR stunt that baseball just might stoop to as it tries to juice up the All-Star game a little more.

Steve Wilstein is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press.



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