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Friday, July 1, 2011
Where's the 'honor'?

By Jayson Stark
ESPN.com

It's supposed to be one of the greatest honors any manager can attain -- right up there with, say, a seven-year contract for more money than Joaquin Benoit:

Manage your team to the World Series, and guess what? You also get to manage in the All-Star Game.

But here's what they forget to tell you:

You might get hated on -- while you're riding in a parade.

Charlie Manuel
Charlie Manuel managed the last two National League teams in the Midsummer Classic.

"In Detroit in '05," two-time All-Star manager Terry Francona told Rumblings, "during that mini-parade through the streets, people were screaming at me, because I didn't take Jeremy Bonderman. It was a little hard to explain to them, in the middle of a parade, that we just ran out of spots."

We know what a lot of All-Star managers would have loved to holler back at times like that: "Ya think it's so easy to pick the team, pal? Hey, YOU try it."

But we guarantee you that just about every All-Star manager in history, as the Giants' Bruce Bochy and the Rangers' Ron Washington will find out this weekend, has had those sentiments run through his head when the Selection Weekend insanity came pounding down on top of him.

We know that because we surveyed a couple of normally affable, two-time All-Star managers this week -- Francona of the Red Sox and Charlie Manuel of the Phillies. And while both of them dropped that word "honor" on us, they also made it clear they would love to see a system in which somebody besides the manager picked the All-Star reserves.

"I'll put it this way," Manuel said. "If they took that part away, I don't think any manager would complain about it."

Manuel, for instance, could think of greater honors than learning what a "dimwit" he is. But that was just one of the many endearing terms used to describe him last July, according to Google, after he chose Omar Infante for his All-Star roster instead of Joey Votto.

Manuel still says he was just following orders. They told him to pick somebody who could play multiple positions, in case the game went, like, 97 innings. So he did.

Then he just couldn't find a vacancy for Votto, after the fans had elected eight starters, the player vote had determined the eight backups plus eight pitchers, and he'd finished cramming the mandated Pirates, Astros and Nationals onto his team.

We could interrupt this conversation right here to launch into a diatribe about the absurdity of any selection system that made it seem more sensible to send a utility guy to the All-Star Game than the eventual NL MVP. But we'll save that for some other time.

But there are bigger issues for those All-Star managers to cope with than just what us media geniuses and those parade-route wise guys think of them. Every year, they have players in their own clubhouse calling them words much more colorful than "dimwit."

"The hardest part for me," Francona said, "was trying to explain to my own guys why they didn't make the team. The first year I did it, in '05, the first [team] meeting we had all year was because guys didn't think I was trying hard enough to get them on the team. I guess because Joe Torre used to take all his [Yankees] guys, they didn't think I was trying hard enough to take my guys. So I had to call a meeting to explain it to them."

And that wasn't the only call he made -- not in 2005, and not the second time he managed the team in 2008, either. He was so troubled by running out of slots for way too many worthy candidates that he phoned them all.

"Some of the guys who didn't make it -- under different ground rules, they would have -- so I called them," Francona said. "I just wanted them to know they deserved it. I just wanted them to know I cared. Once they understood how it really worked, they understood. But the last thing I wanted them to think was that we never thought about them or I wasn't fighting for them."

Terry Francona
Red Sox manager Terry Francona thinks general managers should pick the All-Star reserves.

So obviously, if you stare at this picture long enough, it's not real hard to discern that when baseball hands these men the "honor" of picking the reserves on this team, here's what their sport is really giving them:

An opportunity to spend way, way, way too much time, while they're busy with an actual job that consumes just about every waking hour to begin with, trying to piece together an impossible jigsaw puzzle -- and then inviting the entire planet to look at their work and tell them what knuckleheads they are.

Awesome. Maybe afterward, we can they throw them in a dunk tank, too.

"Everything they say about it is true," Katy Feeney, MLB's senior vice president for scheduling and club relations, told Rumblings. "These guys have a real job, which is tough enough as is. Then, right in the middle of the season, we're telling them they have to take a lot of hours to do this other job. It's never easy."

So is there a better way to do this? There HAS to be, right? But Feeney and her fellow senior vice president for club relations, Phyllis Merhige, have been helping managers with this process for a couple of decades now. And they're not certain there is.

"I think people have thought about it," Feeney said. "But nobody has come up with the 'how' and 'who.' They might come up with the 'who,' but they can't get the 'how' together. Or they might get the 'how,' but they can't get the 'who' to fit."

So we asked Manuel and Francona what changes they would make. Turns out, they had very different ideas.

Manuel suggested using some combination of media and players, and even fans, to fill out the team. Francona proposed a totally different concept -- having the general manager of each World Series team take over this job. Why? Because "that's what they do," he said. "And they should get something for winning, too."

So by "something," he means: Take all the abuse instead of the manager?

"That, too," he said with a laugh. "But at least they don't have to go down there in the dugout and deal with all the stuff the manager has to deal with."

But Merhige's reaction to all these ideas is: "He's the manager. He can call anybody he wants to call. If he wants to call three other managers, he can. If he wants to call his general manager for input, he can. Nothing is stopping him now from doing any of that."

This isn't a question of anybody stopping anyone from doing anything, though. It's a question of whether it might be better to have an independent voice, or a panel of those voices, working on this project, giving it the time and thought it deserves, and sparing the managers from another fun-filled opportunity to find out what imbeciles they are.

We could run our own ideas out there. But here's what we're going to do instead: We're going to open this discussion to people like you, who care deeply about it. Tell us what you'd do. Tweet it to @jaysonst, and we'll try our best to give the best ideas their proper forum.

We can't guarantee the folks at MLB will listen. But here at World Rumblings and Grumblings headquarters, we're all ears. So start tweeting. Operators are standing by.

Ready to Rumble

• Could the Marlins be players this winter for Albert Pujols or Jose Reyes? It's a thought you shouldn't totally wipe off your bright-idea board.

Jose Reyes
Reyes

Reasons it isn't out of the question: They're moving into a new ballpark. They would love to bill themselves as Latin America's Team. They're hiking the payroll. And they're widely expected to make some kind of free-agent splash next winter.

Reasons not to bet that South Beach time-share on it: Their most reliable player (Gaby Sanchez) and their highest-paid position player (Hanley Ramirez) happen to play first and short, respectively. And while their payroll will rise from the current $57 million, it's not expected to approach $90 million. So built-in raises just to Ramirez, Josh Johnson and Ricky Nolasco will chew up another $13 million -- meaning a monster deal for Pujols or Reyes would leave them zero room to do anything else.

In other words, nothing's impossible. And Marlins officials have even joked about it to other people in the game. But is it likely? We don't see it.

Phillies

• The Phillies continue to window-shop and tire-kick on bats and bullpen arms that could fit before the trading deadline. But an executive of one team who spoke with them came away convinced that GM Ruben Amaro Jr. is under intense pressure from ownership to keep his payroll under the luxury-tax threshold.

The same exec says it will be difficult for the Phillies to find a buyer who is willing to eat the salary of any player they're trading for, because the Phillies have been sending messages that their best prospects (Jonathan Singleton, Jarred Cosart, Sebastian Valle, etc.) will be off limits in any kind of deal.

Let's say there is still some skepticism around the game that the Phillies' owners will stay dug in on that stance if their team has a desperate need it has to fill in July. But for now, Amaro continues to tell people not to expect a major move.

• One AL front-office man says that every time he thinks about the Mets either trading or not signing Jose Reyes, it practically makes his head explode. How, he wonders, could a team in New York not do whatever it takes keep a player who single-handedly gives millions of people a reason to pay attention?

"If I were running the Mets," he said, "there wouldn't even be a question. I'd be keeping him. I don't even see where he'll have that many better options. The Yankees aren't signing him. The Angels are out. The Dodgers are out. The Red Sox are probably out. Texas is out. St. Louis? I don't think so. Maybe someone like San Francisco steps up. But this is the type of guy a New York franchise should be keeping. If their situation is so bad they can't sign Jose Reyes for, say, six [years] times 17 [million dollars], they're in even worse shape than I thought."

• If you're multiplying along at home, you know that six times $17 million comes to $102 million -- or $40 million less (and one year fewer) than Carl Crawford got last winter. Crawford may be the most comparable player to Reyes who has passed through the free-agent auction house recently -- but "I wouldn't give him Carl Crawford money," the same front-office man said. "And I don't think they'll have to. He hasn't been as consistently productive as Carl Crawford was for eight years. And again, I don't see that many teams that have the money and the fit."

Dodgers

• Frank McCourt has only one route left if he wants to avoid turning the fate of his Dodgers over to Bud Selig and a bankruptcy judge, one sports attorney tells Rumblings. McCourt has to break out his Fred Wilpon playbook -- and sell a large stake in his team for a massive amount of cash. If he does, the attorney says, MLB would have almost no choice but to approve the sale, because it just allowed Wilpon to do the same thing.

You might think nobody would touch this franchise right now as long as McCourt is involved on any level -- but you'd be wrong. There have been strong indications that McCourt has already had recent overtures from potential minority partners, but turned them down. Now, he may have no alternative but to revisit those options.

Of course, he could also give it up, and just let MLB seize his team and sell it. If he merely goes that route, contrary to what many people think, "he'll be a rich man," said one baseball official. "But here's his problem: If he does that, he goes back to being Frank McCourt, the parking-lot tycoon from Boston. And he's got bigger ambitions than that."

• As the Dodgers sink to the bottom of the NL West (and jurisprudence) standings, you'd think they'd be getting ready to sell off about a half-dozen spare parts. But not so fast. They hardly even HAVE any spare parts.

Rafael Furcal -- hurt. Jonathan Broxton -- hurt. Jon Garland -- hurt. Hong-Chih Kuo -- not hurt at the moment, but wait five minutes. So they're essentially down to Casey Blake, who has minimal value; Jamey Carroll, who gives them production and versatility for a mere $1.8 million, and Hiroki Kuroda, who negotiated a no-trade clause for himself last winter in exchange for signing just a one-year deal. So good luck. Where's Hee Seop Choi when they need him, anyway?

Royals

• Another team that could do less selling in July than you might think is the Royals. They're not trading off any of their rising stars. Guys like Jeff Francis and Kyle Davies don't make anybody's pulse race. And even players like Melky Cabrera or Wilson Betemit might have more value to the Royals as bench players than they would on the open market.

"They're not going to make deals just [to get back] fifth starters or middle relievers," said an exec of one team. "They've got all the No. 4 and 5 starters they need right now. They're only going to make deals if they upgrade them in some significant way."

So in fact, the Royals' biggest decisions might not come this month. They could arrive over the winter, when they contemplate whether to dangle a Billy Butler or Alex Gordon for a young starter with top-of-the-rotation upside.

Derrek Lee
Lee

• As the Orioles look ahead to the deadline, they'd love to have somebody step up and offer something tangible for Derrek Lee. But as much as teams love Lee's professionalism and presence, the reality is this: There isn't a single contender whose first basemen have a lower OPS than Lee's (.667).

"There's probably some team in the National League, that really knows him well, that might take him," said one scout who has covered the Orioles. "But looking at him this year, my question is: How much can he help a good club right now? I love the guy, but everything is so slow, on offense and defense."

• An executive of a club that checked in on Heath Bell predicts Bell will wind up on one of these four teams: Cardinals, Rangers, Yankees or Phillies.

• Jose Bautista may have bailed the Blue Jays out of their current lineup logjam by moving to third base, but he shouldn't sell all his outfield mitts on eBay just yet. Once mega-prospect Brett Lawrie's hand fracture heals, he'll be roaring toward Toronto any minute.

"Brett Lawrie is far and away the best minor leaguer I've seen in quite some time," said one longtime scout. "This guy can turn on good stuff inside. Or if the ball's away, he's happy to drive it the other way. And if there's a two-strike pitch he needs to foul off, no problem. This guy could be every bit of Ryan Braun."

• Red Sox hitting coach Dave Magadan on Jacoby Ellsbury: "He's got as much raw power as anybody on our team."

David Ortiz
Ortiz

On a team that employs David Ortiz and Adrian Gonzalez, that's quite a statement.

• An official of one team who just spent three days watching the Cubs gave them this painful review: "Wow. That's a slow-moving, slow-twitch, non-athletic ball club."

• Finally, when David Ortiz hauled out his first-base mitt Wednesday, he prompted Terry Francona to observe: "I'm worried about David. It looks like he just pulled his glove out of the box. I picked up his glove yesterday and almost cut myself."

But while Ortiz didn't draw blood in his nine innings at first, he did draw this question: How come nobody on the Phillies bunted on him, considering he stationed himself so far behind the bag at first base, it was tough to tell who was playing right field -- him or Adrian Gonzalez?

"Did I think about it? Heck no," Phillies leadoff man Jimmy Rollins told Rumblings. "He said he had a family he needs to feed. I did look at him one time, but I didn't really think about it. I knew if I bunted, [Dustin] Pedroia was gonna come sprinting in from second and he'd just go back to first and take the throw. They already had that worked out. I guarantee you."

Five Astounding Facts (Friday Edition)

1. Tigers reliever Daniel Schlereth did something Tuesday that not many living humans have ever witnessed: Besides giving up two grand slams to a team (the Mets) that hadn't hit one in almost two years, the big news was he served up two slams in relief (to Jason Bay and Carlos Beltran). With the help of the Sultan of Swat Stats, David Vincent, we determined that he's just the fourth reliever to do that in the live ball era. The others: Tex Shirley (both to Rudy York) on July 27, 1946; Luke Hamlin on July 4, 1938; and June Greene, on July 6, 1929.

2. Matt Kemp rolled into July with 22 homers and 22 steals. So how rare is it to find any player in that 20-20 Club while it's still June? Besides the two players who actually turned that start into a 40-40 season -- Alfonso Soriano and Jose Canseco -- only three other players got to 20-20 before July in the past 50 years: A-Rod in 1998 (27 HR, 22 SB), Eric Davis in 1987 (23-33) and Bobby Bonds in 1973 (20-23).

3. Another Dodger who caught our attention was Clayton Kershaw. He just ripped off back-to-back 11-strikeout, complete-game shutouts. And over the past 25 seasons, that's something Randy Johnson did nine times -- and no other left-hander had done ANY times before Kershaw did it.

4. Nothing like a big inning to propel a team into a big offensive reign of terror -- or maybe not. As loyal tweeter Michael McGivern reports, the Twins scored eight runs in the first inning June 21 in San Francisco -- and then scored eight in their next 50⅔ innings. The same night, the Phillies scored nine runs in one inning in St. Louis -- and then scored nine in their next 37 innings.

5. And something happened in Seattle last weekend that even Jim Caple had never seen: Thanks to U2, and because the Marlins were playing "home" games 3,300 miles from home, pitchers got a hit at Safeco Field three days in a row. Last time that happened in a major league game in Seattle, according to baseball-reference.com: Would you believe Sept. 12-13-14, 1969, when George Brunet, Rickey Clark, Diego Segui, Miguel Fuentes and Andy Messersmith all got hits in a series between the Angels and Seattle Pilots at old Sick's Stadium. Beautiful.

Tweets of the Week

From our favorite Late Show tweeting witticist, @EricStangel:

Charlie Sheen admits steroid use during "Major League." When will MLB finally get tough on testing fake baseball players?

Late-Nighter of the Week

Finally, from Jimmy Kimmel:

"The Dodgers today filed for bankruptcy protection. I don't know how an organization that sells a beer for $12 runs out of money, but they did."

Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His latest book, "Worth The Wait: Tales of the 2008 Phillies," was published by Triumph Books and is now available in a new paperback edition, in bookstores and online. Click here to order a copy.

Follow Jayson Stark on Twitter: @jaysonst