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Leyland: Fans are not 'as disgusted with Barry Bonds as some people have let on'

NEW YORK - Jim Leyland couldn't be happier that his old star was elected by fans to start for the National League in next week's All-Star Game.

'People throughout the country obviously must not be as disgusted at Barry Bonds as some people have let on,' said the AL manager, who was Bonds' first major league manager. 'I think it's a great story. I think he belongs there.'

Bonds, famous for his many home runs, a prickly personality and suspicions that he used performance-enhancing drugs, is the focal point of the July 10 game in San Francisco, his home ballpark. He leapfrogged the Chicago Cubs' Alfonso Soriano in the final days of voting to earn the NL's third and final starting outfield spot.

Bonds pulled within four of tying Hank Aaron's career record of 755 homers, connecting off the Reds' Aaron Harang on Tuesday night.

'It's a huge story, and I think no matter where the All-Star Game would be played, Barry being a part of it in the year he seems certain to break the record would be the biggest story of the game,' NL manager Tony La Russa said. 'The fact that it is in San Francisco adds a lot of extra drama and excitement to it.'

Of the 64 players on the All-Star rosters, Bonds figures to easily attract the most scrutiny. Leyland, who managed Detroit to the AL pennant last year, knows the left fielder from their time together in Pittsburgh in the 1980s and 1990s.

'I think everybody will get their recognition, but certainly this has a nice touch to it,' Leyland said during a telephone conference call.

Bonds, who has 17 homers this season, would have been selected by La Russa for the NL roster if he had been bypassed in both the fan and player voting. The St. Louis Cardinals manager even polled his All-Star coaches.

'We all felt that Barry Bonds was an All-Star National Leaguer that deserves to be there to help us try to win the game,' he said.

Homefield advantage for the World Series will be at stake for the fifth consecutive season. The American League has won the last nine All-Star games played to a decision (2002 finished in a tie).

La Russa sounded like an old-school baseball relic when he talked about the NL's incentive to stop its skid.

'The homefield advantage is something worthwhile having,' he said, 'but in the end, the competition, I think, is what's going to turn on the players, going back to the old days where both the leagues played for shouting rights. That's enough of an incentive there. And I think the more that we highlight the competition between the two leagues on Tuesday and not the home run contest on Monday, I think the more fun the players will have.'

St. Louis beat Detroit in five games in last year's World Series, and La Russa joined Sparky Anderson as the only managers to win World Series titles in both leagues.

While La Russa and Leyland were reluctant to discuss their friendship in the crucible of the Series, they didn't mind talking about each other in the comfortable climate of the All-Star Game. La Russa hired Leyland for his first major league job in 1982, a coaching gig with the Chicago White Sox.

'I know Tony has been working on lineups for a week already and I have, too,' Leyland said. 'I know him like a book.'