There were video cameras in Kenny Rogers's face Monday afternoon, peering into his eyes and prying into his thoughts. And there were tape recorders and microphones and notepads, too, lined up three- or four-deep at Rogers's table during media availability the day before Tuesday night's All-Star Game at Detroit's Comerica Park. He was not there to be a distraction, Rogers said, and it's a good thing -- because imagine the scene if he was.
As baseball gets set to stage its showcase event, with Mark Buehrle of the Chicago White Sox and Chris Carpenter of the St. Louis Cardinals facing off, the biggest story concerns a player who most likely will not play. All Rogers, the Texas Rangers' veteran lefty, had to do to steal the ink and sound bites away from all the feel-good stories of achievement and history -- not to mention the official announcement of the 16-nation World Baseball Classic next March -- was show up.
"I don't care about publicity, and I don't need it," Rogers said solemnly Monday, dark sunglasses perched atop his head. "But I understand there's a part I have to play. One of my biggest hopes is that it should be what the players do on the field that is the big story. It doesn't seem to work out that way."
Some observers seemed surprised that Rogers, 40, decided to accept his invitation to join the American League squad in Detroit, less than two weeks after he shoved two cameramen before a game in Texas, an incident for which Rogers received a 20-game suspension. The suspension is under appeal; otherwise, Rogers would not have been allowed to attend the game in uniform. His Rangers contract pays him a $50,000 bonus for being named to the team.
"I think they know that I earned it," Rogers said of his fellow AL players who voted him to the all-star team, his third such honor in a 17-year career. "I didn't want that vote to be wasted. . . . When you're voted by the players, it's more of an honor than being selected [by the league]. That's a really high honor. So I had to go, without a doubt."
Still, Rogers could have slipped into town, skipped the media session -- as some players, including Houston Astros right-hander Roger Clemens this time, have been known to do -- and declined all interview requests. His surprising decision to attend the media session at a nearby hotel apparently came at the encouragement of several people, including AL Manager Terry Francona of the Boston Red Sox.
"I think as long as Kenny shows up and answers the questions -- because he did do something wrong, which he admits . . . he earned that right," Francona said. "We move on, and we play the game."
Rogers said: "It's the only way to get past it. It's the only way I can. I'm here to take whatever shots people are going to give me, and when it's all over I'll still be standing."
Impossible as it may seem, in recent years baseball has managed to create more negative story lines surrounding the all-star game -- essentially a showcase for the game's best players -- than positive ones. In 2002, in Commissioner of Baseball Bud Selig's home town of Milwaukee, the game ended in a 7-7 tie when the teams ran out of pitchers, an embarrassment that helped spur the league to attach the World Series home-field advantage to the game's outcome beginning in 2003.
But that, too, has been met with widespread criticism from players and managers, who believe home-field advantage is too important to be decided by what is still in essence an exhibition.
"Terry and I believe there's probably a better way to arrive at who gets the home field," said Francona's NL counterpart, Tony La Russa of the St. Louis Cardinals. La Russa's suggestion is a popular one: Give home field advantage to the team with the best regular season record.
Perhaps adding to baseball's bad luck, many of its biggest names are absent either because of injury, poor performance or curious omission. No Barry Bonds. No Sammy Sosa. No Ken Griffey Jr. No Derek Jeter. No Randy Johnson. No Curt Schilling.
"It's definitely weird not to have some of those guys around," said old-timer Mike Piazza of the New York Mets. "There's something sad about it."
In addition to the usual fresh blood on the two rosters -- 12 players are first-time all-stars -- there is also a new city represented: Washington. Pitchers Livan Hernandez and Chad Cordero of the Nationals, formerly the Montreal Expos, have the distinction of being the first players to represent Washington in an all-star game since 1971.
Still, like it or not, when 8 p.m. comes Tuesday all eyes are likely to be on Rogers.
When he pitched Saturday for the Rangers in Texas, he got a largely positive response from the home fans, with pockets of boos mixed in. That is not likely to be the case when he is introduced Tuesday night in Detroit. Apart from the hard feelings about the widely replayed shoving incident, local fans are also aware that pitcher Jeremy Bonderman of the hometown Tigers would have been Rogers's replacement had he chosen to decline the invitation to appear.
"I'm not concerned about it," Rogers said when asked about what sort of reception he expected from the fans.
It could be a moot point. Rogers, who is 10-4 with a 2.54 ERA this season, is scheduled to start against the Oakland Athletics on Thursday in the Rangers' first game after the break, meaning he likely would not be used Tuesday night by Francona.
Of course, Francona might run out of pitchers and have to turn to Rogers, who is capable of reeling off a few scoreless innings. Maybe he would even earn the MVP award, and Selig would have to present it to him.
It would be just baseball's luck.
said the Rangers' Kenny Rogers. Bobby Abreu of the Phillies reacts after one of his record-setting 24 home runs in the first round of the Home Run Derby. The old record was 16. See story, E6.