What a great year it year it was supposed to be - and, actually still can and will be - for baseball in Kansas City. The Royals, fielding the home-grown young talent all of us have been waiting for from the team's highly touted farm system, were supposed to be in prime position to finally make their move on the field and in the standings, and we have the Major League Baseball All Star Game coming to Kauffman Stadium for the second time in Royals' history.
We all know how things started out for the Royals, dropping a team-record 10 consecutive games at "The K" to begin the home part of the 2012 schedule, which placed them in a deep hole they will be trying desperately to dig out of in the days ahead.so as to still salvage some good out of what was supposed to be such a promising season. George Brett, longtime face and name of the franchise as its only Hall of Fame player, still has great faith in the current edition of the Royals
While taking part in the Joe McGuff ALS Golf Classic on Monday, Brett told reporters that the Royals are "better than their record indicates. They know they're better, I know they're better, the front-office knows they're better, ownership knows they're better," Brett said.
"Unfortunately, they had that miserable first home stand of the year. It's going to take them a while to dig themselves out of the hole. But you beat the Yankees two out of four, it just shows you're capable of playing good," he said. "I don't know what the limit is on these guys, but they're a better team than they've played thus far."
I tend to agree with our 13-time American League All-Star third baseman, but almost one-fifth the way into the season, it still appears to be somewhat hit and miss, mostly because of very un-major-league-like starting pitching. The road immediately ahead isn't going to get any easier, either. Still to go this month are 11 games with Baltimore, Cleveland and Texas, all currently leading their divisions, and a three-game rematch with the Yankees, although this time in New York.
By the beginning of June, with a third of the season gone, we should know, good or bad, exactly what we have with this year's Royals' team. Let's hope it's better than we see now. It would be great for the fan base and the local economy if things pick up from here and the Royals' start winning more than their losing, especially as the time draws closer for the All-Star Game July 10.
Speaking of the Midsummer Classic, as it is called in baseball lore, it bothers me a little that all the promotion buildup to the game refers to the return of the All-Stars to Kauffman Stadium this year and the previous game played here in 1973, the year that then-Royals Stadium opened. It's true that this is the second time for the All-Star Game to come to Kansas City since the Royals have been in existence, but it will be the third time Kansas City has hosted the game.
The first All-Star game played in Kansas City was in 1960, at old Municipal Stadium, and I was fortunate enough to be in attendance. There wasn't a lot of build up to the game back then - no home run contest, Futures game or celebrity softball game, and certainly not a Fan Fest attraction with all kinds of interactive baseball exhibits - but the game itself was big enough to stand on its own back then and, in my opinion, will never be matched again. Not in this city or any other major-league city.
In some of the advertising building anticipation for the upcoming All-Star extravaganza in Kansas City, the Royals' chief ambassador, Brett, reminds the fans that he played in 13 All-Star Games, but not one in Kansas City, which makes this year's game very special to him because he'll be able to experience what it's like to have the All-Star game here "in our hometown."
The game itself is a giant attraction, featuring the single grandest assembly of major league stars in one place at one time the entire season, and with all the pre-game festivities that go on for several days preceding the main attraction, there is little question that the MLB All-Star Game total package is a much bigger spectacle today than it was the past two times the game was played in Kansas City.
Today, the ballparks are nicer, although the fence dimensions are smaller, with an abundance of fan amenities and a bit of the old blended with the new in the overall stadium design.
But I'm sorry, the talent on the field is in no way superior, and may never again be, to what it was that first All-Game in Kansas City. Among the AL All-Stars on the field that warm July afternoon (that's right, the games were played in the afternoon then) were Mickey Mantle, Ted Williams, Brooks Robinson, Al Kaline, Nellie Fox, Luis Aparicio, Roger Maris and Yogi Berra. For the National League were my personal favorite Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Ernie Banks, Eddie Matthews, Orlando Cepeda, Roberto Clemente and Stan Musial, just to name a few. And to think of what these all-time baseball heroes made compared to even the average player salary of today is downright shameful.
In 1960, Major League Baseball was two years into a four-year experiment to hold two All-Star games every year. Kansas City was the second stop that year, on July 13. The first game was held two days earlier, in Yankee Stadium in New York. The National League won both games.
Ironically, the Athletics finished 58-96 that year - not a bit unusual for that team during that time - and in the basement of the American League, which was a big reason why it was so wonderful to be able to witness a real major-league game by way of the 1960 All-Star Game.
In case you're interested, southpaw pitcher Bud Daley was Kansas City's lone representative to the All-Star Game(s) in 1960. He had a 12-4 record on a terrible team, so the selection was a fairly obvious one.
Which brings me to another point I'd like to make. This summer may be only our city's third time hosting the All-Star Game, but being in a city with a major-league team for now 56 of the past 57 years, we've had the good fortune of seeing a considerable number of current and future Baseball Hall of Famers come through here outside of an All-Star Game, and even a few who spent time here on one of our major, minor or Negro League teams.
Here's a sampling: Satchel Paige, Jackie Robinson, Ernie Banks and Buck O'Neill with the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro League; Mickey Mantle and Phil Rizzuto, who played for the Kansas City Blues before being called up to the big leagues by the Yankees; . Some more names you'll probably recognize: Roger Maris, Rocky Colavito, Bob Cerv, Norm Siebern, Jerry Lumpe, Reggie Jackson, Jim "Catfish" Hunter, Vida Blue and even the legendary Satchel Page, all former Kansas City A's. And, of course, Brett, Frank White, Hal McRae, Dan Quisenberry, Bret Saberhagen and even Harmon Killebrew, of the Royals.
So even if there have been a dearth of all-star seasons insofar as Kansas City's major league teams are concerned, it isn't that we've been deprived of seeing All-Stars playing the game.
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