Tom Kelly had the chance to be an All-Star manager twice and guided the American League to victory both times. But even with the pageantry and excitement associated with those games, he never was sad to see them end.
Sure, it was nice having a clubhouse full of the world’s best baseball talent at his disposal, but that also complicated things.
“On one hand, you feel like a kid in a candy store,” Kelly said. “And then, on the other hand, it becomes a little bit of a headache.”
To manage an All-Star team, you have to first lead your own team to the World Series. The late Johnny Oates thought baseball had it backwards. He often said last-place managers should be summoned to manage the All-Star Game since the duty was more punishment than reward.
A manager’s All-Star roster choices are heavily scrutinized, fairly or unfairly, as Boston’s John Farrell and St. Louis’ Mike Matheny will learn when this year’s rosters are revealed Sunday. And on July 15 at Target Field, they will discover that managing the All-Star Game itself is stressful, as they try to win while appeasing fans and handling superstar egos.
The biggest nightmare is getting another team’s franchise player hurt. That, or managing the midsummer spectacle into the abyss, as Joe Torre and Bob Brenly did in 2002, the year of baseball’s infamous, 11-inning All-Star tie.
The Kelly experience
Kelly’s All-Star headaches in 1988 and 1992 began during the roster selection process. Back then, the managers were supposedly in charge of picking the roster, beyond the starting position players, which have been determined by a fan vote since 1970.
“We had league presidents at that time,” Kelly said. “I remember [AL President] Bobby Brown calling at least once a day. He pretty much dictated what was going to be done, what players were added or subtracted.
“I think there’s a perception out there that the manager picks. I don’t know if that goes on now, but in those days, you didn’t do any picking.”
Kelly still took heat in 1988 for choosing Twins catcher Tim Laudner as a reserve over Angels backstop Bob Boone. And in 1992, Cecil Fielder didn’t crack Kelly’s AL roster, even after piling up 75 RBI by the break.
“Someone is always going to get left off, but it’s hard to make everyone happy,” said Rangers manager Ron Washington, who skippered the AL squad in 2011 and 2012.
The All-Star rosters now feature 34 players, compared to 28 when Kelly managed. Players now vote to pick one reserve at each position, along with eight pitchers, with the managers filling out the rest. But those choices are limited because each major league team still gets at least one player on the roster.
In 2012, A.J. Pierzynski complained publicly after getting snubbed, but the last-place Twins had to have one player selected, and Joe Mauer got the nod as a third catcher. Washington officially made seven selections, but four were used to make sure each team had at least one representative.
Washington had three real choices, and just as Giants manager Bruce Bochy had done in 2011, the Rangers manager went with his own players: Elvis Andrus, Matt Harrison and Joe Nathan.
What can go wrong
Torre and Brenly were so determined to get everyone into the 2002 game that they ran out of pitching. With the score tied 7-7 after the 11th inning, Commissioner Bud Selig decided that night in Milwaukee would end with no winners, especially among the fans.
Six years later at Yankee Stadium, the All-Star rosters had been expanded, but managers Terry Francona and Clint Hurdle were each down to their last pitcher — Scott Kazmir and Brad Lidge — as the game stretched into the 15th inning. Justin Morneau finally slid across home plate, giving the AL a 4-3 victory.
“I was fortunate enough when I managed the All-Star Game that I lost them both, and we got blown out early, so I could get everybody in,” Washington said. “I wasn’t in a position where I’m playing in a 3-2 ballgame and I want to keep the guys out there.”
Baltimore fans still haven’t forgiven former Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston for failing to use Orioles pitcher Mike Mussina in the 1993 All-Star Game at Camden Yards. Mussina fueled the fire when he chose to start warming up in the bullpen while Toronto closer Duane Ward finished the ninth inning to a chorus of boos.
“One thing about this job: You will be criticized,” Gaston said after leading the AL to a 9-3 victory.
In 1988, Kelly seemed to push all the right buttons when the AL won 2-1 in Cincinnati. Frank Viola, Roger Clemens and Dennis Eckersley were among the eight pitchers Kelly used in that duel.
“Doyle Alexander was the only guy who didn’t pitch,” Kelly said. “But I saved him because it was a 2-1 game, and if they tie it up, you’re going to have that problem they had back in 2002.
“And [Alexander] was mad. God, he was mad. I tried to explain to him, ‘It was 2-1, Doyle. You’ve pretty much got it after they tie it up.’ ”
In 1992, Kelly’s AL squad jumped on Tom Glavine for four first-inning runs and cruised to 13-6 victory in San Diego. Kelly had no problem emptying his bench, as Ken Griffey Jr. led the hit parade with a single, double and home run. Of course, Kelly still got grilled afterward: Why hadn’t he let Griffey go for the cycle?
Kelly shrugged it off. Griffey understood. A cycle had been the least of their concerns.