ST. PETERSBURG -- Jim Leyland never played a game in the big leagues, let alone an All-Star Game. His only memories were the games he coached or managed. They were a labor of love, he said, but they were a lot of work.
"The All-Star Game is one of the greatest honors in the world, and it's one of the biggest pains to manage, if you want to know the truth," Leyland said. "But it's such an honor, and you're there for the right reasons. It means you were in the World Series, so I don't want to downplay it. But it can be a real tough game to manage, because you want to get everybody in, you want to get every uniform out there, you want to get every kid in that made it. And it just doesn't always work that way."
It's a balancing act, one that Leyland learned all too well when he managed in 2007, the year after the Tigers went to the World Series. He had a handful of players from his Tigers team that won the American League pennant, earning him his spot to manage the All-Stars, and he was happy to play them. But he was also mindful of the players on other teams who made it, especially the first-timers.
At the same time, however, he was mindful of the lessons learned in 2002, when the Midsummer Classic ended in a 7-7 tie, because the two sides used up all their players.
The result for Leyland was a stressful balancing act. The broadcast spent much of the ninth inning showing Leyland anxiously standing at the top of the dugout while the National League All-Stars, managed by Leyland's good friend Tony La Russa, rallied from a three-run deficit to have a chance to tie it.
It ended a long process of preparation for Leyland, who spent much of the season's first half tracking statistics and following potential candidates he might have to choose for the bench or the pitching staff.
The Junior Circuit held on for a 5-4 victory, and Leyland could finally stop holding his breath. A year later, he was coaching on Terry Francona's staff as an honor to his friend, but he was sweating like a manager when the 2008 Midsummer Classic labored through 15 innings. When the AL finally pulled out a 4-3 win, Leyland could be seen celebrating with Francona, both of them relieved.
Leyland was able to accomplish some things he wanted. For one thing, he recalled this week, he was able to recognize some of the best middle relievers in the game by putting a handful of them on the All-Star Final Vote ballot. Red Sox left-hander Hideki Okajima won it.
"The year I managed, I had five guys that were all relievers who weren't closers, because I think those guys never get the credit," Leyland remembered earlier this week. "I took them all, because I really studied it and I really put a lot of thought into it and I did a lot of research on it. I had guys looking into numbers on a consistent basis. I really put a lot of time into it, and I felt like those guys should be recognized.
"I don't think an All-Star Game should be played necessarily without some of the best setup guys in all of baseball. Why shouldn't they get a chance?"
The 2012 All-Star Game will be played at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City on Tuesday, July 10. Come to MLB.com for extensive online coverage of the All-Star Week festivities.The 83rd All-Star Game will be televised nationally by FOX Sports, in Canada by Rogers Sportsnet and RDS, and worldwide by partners in more than 200 countries via MLB International's independent feed. ESPN Radio and ESPN Radio Deportes will provide national radio coverage of the All-Star Game. MLB Network and Sirius XM will also provide comprehensive All-Star Week coverage. For more information, please visit allstargame.com or royals.com/asg.