Maddon embracing All-Star closeup

Maddon embracing All-Star closeup

ST. LOUIS -- While introducing Joe Maddon as the manager of the American League team for Tuesday's 80th All-Star Game, honorary AL president Jackie Autry made one thing very clear to the masses that would be reached by the words and pictures of the media members packing a news conference.

"I have to tell you, ladies, he got married in the offseason," Autry said. "So he's now forbidden fruit."

Anyone who has watched Maddon operate over the course of his 30-plus years in baseball knows that the man is a light-hearted optimist, so the fun mood fit.

But he's a serious baseball man, too, as evidenced by the work he's done to get him to this point. Maddon was last year's AL Manager of the Year while leading the Tampa Bay Rays to a startling turnaround from a last-place, 66-win showing in 2007: a 97-65 record, a rare AL East division title, an AL pennant and a spot in the World Series.

And there he was Monday morning, listing off the starting lineup for his AL All-Stars in an intimate way that only a guy like Maddon could pull off.

"Batting first and playing right field will be Ichiro," he said. "Batting second and playing shortstop will be Derek."

The room erupted with laughter and he continued.

"Batting third and catching will be Joe. Batting fourth and playing first base will be Mark. Batting fifth and playing left field will be Jason. Batting sixth and playing center field will be Josh. Batting seventh and playing third base will be Evan. Batting eighth and playing second base will be Aaron. And batting ninth, possibly, we'll see how it all works out, starting pitcher, Doc."

STARTING LINEUPS
AMERICAN LEAGUE
Ichiro Suzuki, rf
Derek Jeter, ss
Joe Mauer, c
Mark Teixeira, 1b
Jason Bay, lf
Josh Hamilton, cf
Evan Longoria, 3b
Aaron Hill, 2b
Roy Halladay, p
NATIONAL LEAGUE
Hanley Ramirez, ss
Chase Utley, 2b
Albert Pujols, 1b
Ryan Braun, rf
Raul Ibanez, lf
David Wright, 3b
Shane Victorino, cf
Yadier Molina, c
Tim Lincecum, p

Maddon, of course, left out the names Suzuki, Jeter, Mauer, Teixeira, Bay, Hamilton, Longoria, Hill and Halladay, but he gave a good reason for the harmless omissions.

"What happened is when you go play the Seattle Mariners, they always send the lineup over in advance and they will have the leadoff hitter listed at Ichiro," Maddon said. "And when I was with the Angels, we would send it back with Darin [Erstad] or David [Eckstein] and with the Rays, we accepted it back as B.J. [Upton].

"I just wanted to introduce on a first-name basis this year. But again, it's quite an honor and privilege to be here. I'm looking forward to this experience a lot, and hopefully we'll bring back the World Series first game and possibly seventh game to the American League."

Maddon was immediately asked why he chose Blue Jays righty Roy "Doc" Halladay to start the game, with Royals right-hander Zack Greinke having been expected to be a contender to take the ball first for the AL and other worthy candidates, including Felix Hernandez, Justin Verlander and veteran knuckleballer and first-time All-Star Tim Wakefield.

"It's very difficult to actually pick that one guy," Maddon said. "There's so many qualified pitchers among the group. But based on the body of work, also, I think Doc, over the last several years has demonstrated to be possibly the best pitcher in the American League.

"And once again, this year, I get to see him way too often. He's still at the very pinnacle of his pitching ability. So it's not an easy decision to make."

Maddon also admitted that he'll most likely face a bunch of even tougher decisions regarding who gets to play and when once the game starts and depending on how long it goes.

"Well, I've been thinking about it a lot, obviously," he said. "The fact that it's a National League game makes it more difficult, I believe. An American League game, you can pretty much choreograph the game before it begins and have an understanding of who you can get in.

"Being that it's a National League game, it's going to represent a bunch of different problems as the game is in progress. You go from theory and reality hits you in the face. From my perspective, again, I want to get as many guys in the game as possible, but, however, if the game is tied and it's late, you have to keep some contingency plans in the back, not only pitching-wise, but position player-wise, because you don't want pitchers to have to hit later in the game.

"I've been thinking about that a lot, and it's definitely going to be a balancing act. And listen, it's going to be my first time doing it, too, and I'm not saying I'm the sharpest stick in the pile, either. I'm just going to try to play along properly, with the help obviously of our crack coaching staff and see if we can do this thing in the right way."

Maddon also was asked for his opinion on the rule, in effect since 2003, that grants home-field advantage in the World Series to the winning league in the Midsummer Classic. After the AL won the 15-inning marathon that was the 79th All-Star Game at Yankee Stadium last year, Maddon's Rays lost the first game of the Fall Classic at home and ended up dropping the World Series to the Philadelphia Phillies in five games.

"That's what we have chosen to do and I'm all for it," Maddon said. "Last year, for instance, we did not take advantage of it. Obviously it was great that the American League had won, I'll tell you that. Going into the postseason, it was nice to know that we had home-field advantage throughout. We just did not utilize it.

"I'm all for it. ... I think it makes this moment a lot more interesting ... and a little bit tighter, too, because you're playing for the entire league. ... I know our guys here, all of the All-Stars are going to play to win, regardless. However, I think by putting this little extra weight on the end of it, believe me, man, when it comes down to that point of the season, you want to play the first game at home, and possibly the seventh."

Before Maddon was whisked away to his many other responsibilities as an ambassador for the game during this week of celebration, he couldn't help but admit that the media attention and the grandeur of this event gave him a very familiar feeling of a time and place he'd like to visit again in October.

"This really brings you back to the playoffs pretty quickly," Maddon said. "It's actually more magnified. ... It's there.

"It gets the adrenaline going."

Doug Miller is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.