There is no shortage of bad blood in the Cincinnati Reds-St. Louis Cardinals rivalry.
On August 10, 2010, a heated exchange between Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips and Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina turned into a bench-clearing scrum between the N.L. Central rivals.
Reds started Johnny Cueto ended up getting pinned up against the net behind home plate and was kicking away Cardinals players for protection, which led to a seven-game suspension for the Dominican pitcher.
Tony La Russa was managing the Cardinals at the time, and even though he retired after St. Louis won the World Series last season, he has the honor of managing the National League All-Star team on July 10th at Kauffman Stadium, home of the Kansas City Royals.
As the manager of the N.L. All-Star team, La Russa was able to name nine players of his choice. He chose Clayton Kershaw, Wade Miley, Cole Hamels, Ian Desmond, Carlos Ruiz, Jay Bruce, Giancarlo Stanton, Jonathan Papelbon, and Huston Street.
Similar to the perceived “snubs” on Selection Sunday of the college basketball season, every year there are baseball players who have valid arguments to be in the MLB All-Star Game despite being left off the roster. It’s just how the sports work. There are more candidates than spots available.
What is interesting is that the two main Cincinnati Reds players involved in the 2010 skirmish were conveniently left off of the N.L. All-Star roster.
While La Russa can’t be charged as completely anti-Cincinnati since he selected Reds outfielder Jay Bruce, La Russa still passed on two deserving players in Phillips and Cueto. Cueto is 9-4 with a 2.26 ERA, 86 strikeouts and a 1.14 WHIP. Phillips has a .283 average along with 10 homeruns, 46 RBIs, a .327 OBP, .441 slugging percentage, and a .768 OPS.
To make a point of comparison, let’s take a look at the players at the same positions as Johnny Cueto and Brandon Phillips:
La Russa’s Picks:
- Clayton Kershaw 6-4 Record 2.65 ERA 112 Strikeouts 1.05 WHIP
- Wade Miley 9-4 Record 2.87 ERA 66 Strikeouts 1.06 WHIP
- Cole Hamels 10-4 Record 3.08 ERA 111 Strikeouts 1.10 WHIP
MLB Player Vote:
- Matt Cain 9-3 Record 2.53 ERA 114 Strikeouts 0.95 WHIP
- R.A. Dickey 12-1 Record 2.15 ERA 116 Strikeouts 0.88 WHIP
- Gio Gonzalez 11-3 Record 3.01 ERA 112 Strikeouts 1.12 WHIP
- Lance Lynn 10-4 Record 3.62 ERA 98 Strikeouts 1.25 WHIP
- Stephen Strasburg 9-3 Record 2.81 ERA 122 Strikeouts 1.08 WHIP
La Russa’s Pick:
- Ian Desmond (SS) 0.279 Average 14 HR’s 47 RBI’s .309 OBP .491 SLG
- Dan Uggla (2B) .229 Average 11 HR’s 43 RBI’s .359 OBP .400 SLG
- Rafael Furcal (SS) .274 Average 5 HR’s 32 RBI’s .340 OBP .366 SLG
MLB Player Vote:
- Jose Altuve (2B) .303 Average 5 HR’s 25 RBI’s .345 OBP .443 SLG
- Starlin Castro (SS) .291 Average 6 HR’s 40 RBI’s .315 OBP .418 SLG
Based on the numbers of the other All Stars at their positions, Cueto and Phillips clearly warrant consideration that they may not have gotten from a potentially biased La Russa.
Only two starting pitchers have better records than Cueto, and he has the second best ERA of the starters named to the N.L. All-Star team. In terms of “DatDudeBP” getting left of off the National League roster, he is hitting .54 points better and has a slugging percentage .41 points higher than the current starter, Dan Uggla. Phillips also has double the amount of home runs and 21 more RBIs than Jose Altuve, the second baseman who Major League players voted in.
When questioned about Cueto and Phillips being left off of the roster, La Russa tried to shift the blame over to Cincinnati Reds manager Dusty Baker, who had his own thoughts about two of his deserving players being excluded from the All-Star Game.
Baker had this to say about Cueto and Phillips not making the team:
“A snub like that looks bad. 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.”
La Russa said:
“If Dusty had been more interested in Cueto being on the team, then he wouldn’t be pitching him on Sunday. Cueto probably would be on the team if he wasn’t pitching Sunday.”
Whether or not there was any malice behind La Russa’s decision to not include the two players in his nine All-Star selections, his reasoning is completely invalid. In fact, according to the the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, a pitcher cannot be left off of an All-Star roster on the basis of starting a game the Sunday prior to the All-Star Game.
To further the La Russa conspiracy theory, Milwaukee Brewers starting pitcher Zack Greinke, who has a 9-2 record with a 3.08 ERA, 106 strikeouts, and a 1.18 WHIP, was also left off of the National League’s roster. In a press conference last postseason, he criticized Cardinals pitcher Chris Carpenter.
Greinke said, “They think his [Carpenter's] presence, his attitude out there sometimes is like a phony attitude. And then he yells at people. He just stares people down and stuff. And most pitchers just don’t do that. And when guys do, I guess some hitters get mad. Some hitters do it to pitchers. But when you do that some people will get mad. There’s other pitchers in the league that do it, but, I don’t know, a lot of guys on our team don’t like Carpenter.”
Do I think that Tony La Russa has some animosity towards some members of the Cincinnati Reds organization, including Johnny Cueto and Brandon Phillips?
But do I think that the guys La Russa selected deserve to be named All-Stars?
All of the “evidence” is on the table, but it neither incriminates nor acquits Tony La Russa.
I tend to believe that the skirmish two years ago remains fresh in La Russa’s memory, and it definitely hurt the All-Star chances of Johnny Cueto and Brandon Phillips. But no one, other than himself, knows if La Russa let past events and stormy relationships in the N.L. Central get in the way of making impartial All-Star Game selections.
However, the situation certainly puts him in a bad light, making him an even more disliked figure in Cincinnati and Milwaukee. It also raises the question of whether All-Star Game managers can be objective enough to have the complete authority to decide nine All-Stars per league each year.
What do you think?