Diffusing potential controversy, Roberts keeps things in order

July 12, 2005|By Peter Schmuck

DETROIT - It is, of course, an outrage. Brian Roberts is the best leadoff hitter in the game this year, but when Boston Red Sox manager Terry Francona unveiled the American League lineup for tonight's All-Star Game at Comerica Park, the Orioles second baseman (and maybe Most Valuable Player) was at the bottom of the batting order.

The AL leadoff man will be Johnny Damon, who - and maybe this is just a coincidence - plays for the Boston Red Sox, along with No. 3 hitter David Ortiz, cleanup man Manny Ramirez and catcher Jason Varitek.

Roberts, who leads the AL in hitting (.345) and ranks second to Cleveland's Travis Hafner with a .416 on-base percentage, will hit ninth and could get just one at-bat tonight, but if you were looking for a little intra-divisional controversy on the eve of the 76th midsummer classic, you came to the wrong place.

"I could care less," Roberts said. "I assumed that Johnny would be where he is. I told Terry, if it had been any different I would have asked him to change it."

God, how I hate peace, love and understanding. Even Kenny Rogers was on his best behavior yesterday. Would it be too much to ask for somebody to put a little bit of an edge on this glorified exhibition game?

"I'm the rookie [All-Star]," Roberts said. "I deserve to be in the ninth hole."

I'm just glad the Orioles weren't this passive when the Red Sox showed up over the weekend or the Birds would be eight games out of first place right now. Instead, they won three out of four games and re-asserted themselves as a playoff contender and I'm guessing this is the only way that Francona could get back at them.

"Admittedly, Brian Roberts is having an MVP-type season," Francona explained. "I think Johnny Damon is doing the same thing and he did that for me last year."

Francona is just exercising the prerogative that comes with winning the pennant - the opportunity to show a little extra consideration to the players who won him the right to manage the All-Star team. Joe Torre did the same thing year after year during the irritating Yankee dynasty and made no bones about it, but the Orioles don't have to like it.

That's why I went right to Melvin Mora to see if he might want to take up for his diplomatic young teammate.

"I think Brian doesn't care," Mora said. "You know, Johnny Damon has been outstanding for a long time. He's one of the best leadoff hitters in baseball. Brian Roberts has great numbers, but I think he agrees with me that Johnny Damon has been a great leadoff hitter and deserves to be there.

"I wouldn't want somebody to put me in front of Alex Rodriguez. We respect those guys because they have been putting up numbers for a long time."

Melvin clearly is a classy young man, but the last thing I want going into the second half of a tough division race is a bunch of guys who know their place. I mean, when Kevin Millar says, "We're going to the World Series, boys," I don't want my guys saying, "Well, yes, they are a very good team with an excellent chance to repeat. We'll just step aside."

The heck with that. The only thing left to do was find Damon and hope he would talk enough smack to light a fire under all these Orioles who apparently are just glad to be here.

No such luck.

"It wouldn't have mattered either way," said the soft-spoken Damon, who is so likable that you just want to choke him. "Brian has put together two very good years. He's been the best leadoff hitter in the league this year. What kind of helped me out was, Terry is my manager and over the past seven years I've put together some numbers being the leadoff guy."

I give up. Damon is a great player, there's no doubt about that. He's also a pretty good guy and at least he's not a Yankee, which takes a little of the sting out of it.

The fans voted him and three other members of the defending World Series champion Red Sox into the starting lineup, which is pretty hard to argue about when they're wearing those gaudy rings and they'll open the second half on top of the AL East.

Francona isn't a bad fellow either. He interviewed for the Orioles job before Lee Mazzilli was hired and - despite several years managing the Phillies - seems like he still has his faculties. It would have shown me something if he had put Roberts at the top of the All-Star batting order, but then he would have had some explaining to do to the man he's depending on to set the table for another big playoff run.

I probably would have done the same thing.

Contact Peter Schmuck at peter.schmuck@baltsun.com.

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