Leyland's chance to manage the AL All-Stars comes nine years after he led the Senior Circuit at the 1998 Midsummer Classic at Coors Field in Denver. It's less than a decade apart, but it might as well be eons.
When Leyland managed the NL that year, the only representative from his defending World Series champion Marlins was Edgar Renteria, one of the few stars Florida hadn't yet traded. His AL roster this year has five Tigers on it, with a chance through the Final Vote for a sixth, all of whom played key roles in the Tigers' trip to the Fall Classic last October.
"This is totally different," Leyland said, "because the guys who represented this team in the World Series last year are back this year. It's definitely not the same at all. It's nice to see our guys rewarded, and it's nice to see them in Tigers uniforms."
Leyland had fewer players still around to reward in '98, but ironically, he had more chances to reward them. With the player ballot deciding much of the pitching staff and several reserves these days, Leyland had far fewer spots to decide now compared to then, even with the expanded roster.
That's fine with him. As Leyland took one question after another on his roster, the theme throughout was that he wanted to honor the vote of the players.
When the first question of the call asked Leyland about Angels shortstop Orlando Cabrera's omission from the squad, he pointed to the player ballot.
"Certainly people get snubbed from time to time," Leyland said. "That's just the way it is. Derek Jeter was the winner of the fan vote and the player vote, and Carlos Guillen was second."
When asked about Roy Halladay being placed in the Final Vote contest instead of the first 29 roster spots, Leyland said that he chose another Cy Young Award winner, Johan Santana, because he ranked higher on the player ballot. It was the same reasoning that placed one of Leyland's own pitchers, Jeremy Bonderman, on the Final Vote roster as well.
"I did add Halladay to the list on the [Final Vote], because there's no question he's a deserving-type pitcher," Leyland said. "I went with Santana ahead of Bonderman [and Halladay] because that's what the players did."
For someone considered by some as an old-school manager, Leyland is respectful of the current ways rosters are decided. In many ways, he likes it, because it leaves fewer opportunities to second-guess decisions. It also eases some of the workload on the manager in the days leading up to the roster announcement.
Of the eight spots left for Leyland to decide, including the Final Vote contestants, he had to represent five teams that otherwise didn't have an All-Star. Once Tampa Bay, Kansas City, Toronto, Chicago and Texas had their representatives, Leyland was left to add one pitcher (Santana) and one position player (Indians catcher Victor Martinez). Even those players added to have a team represented were often the next guys down on the players ballot. The only exceptions, Leyland said later, were White Sox closer Bobby Jenks and Rangers shortstop Michael Young.
It was a restrictive process, but Leyland prefers the current setup.
"You have to remind [critics] that this could turn into nothing but a major-market game if you're not careful," Leyland said. "It causes some problems the way it's done, but I think it's right to have every team represented."
In some ways, that outlook might be a reflection of the way Leyland sees the game itself. He understands the importance of a victory in terms of home-field advantage for the World Series, especially after getting there last year. Still, throughout his remarks, Leyland emphasized that the game is for the fans and the players.
"This is a game of competition," he said, "and I think there's no question that both teams are going to compete. What you have to remember is that this is also a game for the fans to see their stars. So I think there's a combination of things.
"One of the players in our clubhouse is going to be in the World Series, so we're going to compete to the best of our ability. But this is also a showcase for our players. This is not about Tony La Russa managing or Jim Leyland managing. This is about the best players in baseball."