Jim Leyland finally got the draw on Tony La Russa when it mattered.
Or did it?
Besides beating his National League counterpart 5-4 in Tuesday night's All-Star game and securing home-field advantage for whichever AL club reaches the World Series, the Tigers' manager piled up some serious style points a day earlier en route to an easier win in the fashion competition. It's hard to be sure which loss bothered La Russa more.
On Monday the Cardinals manager showed up for an interview session wearing a casual shirt without a tie and was steamed to take a seat alongside his much more nattily attired pal.
``I'm a little sore,'' La Russa admitted, with a nod toward Leyland. ``We talked about coming to this thing, and I asked him what to wear and he said, 'Oh, it's California, don't worry about a sport coat.'''
Once the laughter died down, La Russa added, ``He got me already.''
Ballplayers will compete at anything - card games, eye candy, luxury autos - except, apparently, the All-Star game. At least that's Bud Selig's view.
The commissioner caught some heat for trying to prop up sagging TV ratings by dragging a podium onto the field in the middle of the 2001 contest to hand lifetime achievement awards to departing stars Cal Ripken and Tony Gwynn. A year later, he was positively flambeed for halting a tied game in the 11th inning because there were no pitchers left.
Selig answered his critics with ``This Time It Counts,'' a neat catchphrase, but a lousy idea. Convinced that bragging rights weren't motivation enough, the commissioner decided - after some arm-twisting from the know-it-alls at Fox - to award the winning league home-field advantage for the World Series. The plan was to make the game feel less like an exhibition and more like a competition again, to produce moments like Pete Rose steamrolling catcher Ray Fosse at the plate to score the winning run in the 1970 game.
What Selig forgot is that today's ballplayers wouldn't risk knocking over a Wheaties box - let alone each other - in a game that doesn't count in the standings. With teams and especially players' agents charged with looking after their multimillion-dollar investments, the only collisions Tuesday night were within an arm's length of the clubhouse buffet tables.
``It should just be an event and not taken so serious,'' Barry Bonds said.
Neither does Ripken (``doesn't jibe'') nor Gwynn (``totally agree'') nor La Russa (``it's not a big thing with me'') nor just about anybody else who was asked just before or during the All-Star break.
``I like Bud Selig, don't get me wrong,'' Yankee manager Joe Torre, who has called the shots in six All-Star Games, told the San Francisco Chronicle during a recent stop in town. ``But I'm not sure any of the All-Stars are thinking about that when they go out and play.''
Au contraire, Selig said during an afternoon chat session with fans.
``It's a great rule,'' he replied to Jeff from Wisconsin, ``and I'll tell you why.''
Being a student of history, the commissioner said the 1993 game in which then-Toronto manager Cito Gaston was roundly booed for not playing pitcher Mike Mussina set an ugly precedent.
``Then the managers started using everybody,'' Selig continued. ``They felt they had to get everybody in the game. The game lost it's intensity. ... there was a period, nobody wanted to come and everybody had an excuse; somebody needed to get a haircut or he needed to do that; he didn't want to play.
``Now they want to play, because it means something. That was the objective.''
We're not sure which game the commissioner was watching, since this one ended with the NL's Aaron Rowand flying out with the bases loaded while the Cardinals' Albert Pujols was still glued to the bench. La Russa, his manager, takes a backseat to no one in terms of either intensity of competitiveness, which is apparent to anyone who saw him pull every managerial trick in the book during a battle with close buddy Leyland in last fall's World Series.
But he also knows that the results in the fall classics is even between the leagues at two each since Selig's directive took effect. And he wasn't about to risk his recovering slugger, who fought injuries during the first half, for a payoff his team might not be able to cash.
``If I wasn't expecting to play, I wouldn't have come up here,'' an angry Pujols said after the game.
Replied La Russa, ``If he wants to get upset, he can get upset. Whatever he wants to do, he can do. It's America. That wasn't the most important thing tonight.''
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Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitkeap.org.

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