In this case, both former greats felt Harper could be that person for La Russa, but neither expects Harper to be added by either the Player Ballot or by the manager's reserve process in conjunction with MLB. That could leave it up to the 2012 All-Star Game MLB.com Final Vote presented by Firestone, where 10 players -- five from each league -- are presented by the All-Star managers to fans as the candidates for one final roster spot per league.
"I don't mind," Ripken said of the possibility of Harper's name coming up on Sunday. "I've been really impressed with Bryce. I was a little concerned he didn't have enough at-bats against higher-level competition when he came to the big leagues, and quite frankly his speedy transition really has impressed me. He has good power to the opposite field, waits a long time and has a certain degree of stubbornness and confidence. He's performing like an All-Star. It's going to hurt him that he came up late."
Ripken noted that Dodgers outfielder Matt Kemp, the National Leagu captain for the State Farm Home Run Derby, just went on record saying he will not be adding Harper to his derby roster.
"In my opinion, Bryce is going to have many opportunities for the All-Star Game, just not this year," Ripken said.
"I would agree, the future is bright for him," Smoltz added. "I know the anxiousness of people wanting to see a player like him at the All-Star Game, but too many people are statistically ahead of him. He'll bide his time, and he'll probably have a chance every year to fight and earn it via the fan vote or the manager's [selection]."
How would Smoltz vote?
"If I had a vote," he replied, "we'd catch up . . . and change the rules on how they're picked. A manager looking to win would add a versatile player. But when you have a system where fans vote and the manager has to pick at least one player from every team, that messes with the equation of who gets picked. Does Bryce Harper offer something that could help a National League team win? Absolutely. But you could go down the line and see others who do as well.
"It's a tough situation you're putting a manager in when he has eight players he has to pick. He has to pick five pitchers, so that leaves three position players he can pick. That narrows the scope a lot. Without messing with the system, I think you're hamstrung a little bit on what you can pick. Just the outfield position alone, you've got about six guys ahead of him. lt would be hard to explain to a guy like Melky Cabrera, for example.
"You've got [Andrew] McCutchen, [Carlos] Beltran ... " Ripken interjected.
"I get it," Smoltz continued. "I know why on Harper -- it's good for baseball. But that's my long-winded short answer. I would change the way it's being composed."
Mike Trout's name also was mentioned to Ripken in the same breath as that of Harper. In the case of Trout, there is certainly more statistical justification for a trip to Kansas City in two weeks. Trout leads the American League in batting average (.335) and stolen bases (21), sparking the Angels after their slow start.
"I like them both as players," Ripken said. "I've paid more attention to the Nationals because of Bryce Harper -- his enthusiasm, energy, trying to stretch every single to a double. They're two fantastic players. You could make a case for both. Both came up a little late so it's going to work against them, but I like them. They're All-Star-caliber."
For any such modification to the selection process to happen, it probably would mean canning the traditional notion of at least one representative for all Major League clubs.
"If they go back to the old way [before home-field advantage], I have no problem with it -- every team [represented]," Smoltz said. "But if you're going to say it means home-field advantage, then no, I don't think every team deserves one.
"You have a lot of things determining the fate of an AL-NL game. Every manager is put into a tougher situation to get one in [from each club]. When you're asking a manager to do something that could affect their team's chances of getting home-field, just look to last year. The Cardinals win Games 6 and 7 at home, and they benefited by the big hit by the National League in the All-Star Game."
Ripken said of his broadcast partner: "John's logic is very sound, the seriousness of the game. We really competed hard. The manager's speech was something like, 'Congrats for making the team, I apologize if I don't get you in, but those guys think they are better than we are,' and that was the incentive.
"Having said that, I really like having a representative of every team. I don't know if that's from when I was a kid. You could take pride in really pulling for someone. So for me, I have a soft spot for having a player from each team."