Midsummer Classic offers chance to reflect, look forward

Ken Morse

The words are kind of catchy even for an old song: “I’m going to Kansas City, Kansas City here I come.” MLB has gone to Kansas City twice before this year to celebrate the Midsummer Classic.

In 1960, Kansas City was the site of the 28th All-Star Game. From 1959-1962, baseball held two such games a year for the sole purpose of increasing the amount of money going into the players’ pension fund.

The four-year experiment went away and we now celebrate only one All-Star Game a season (and one is more than enough). Back in 1960, stars like Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, Mickey Mantle and Early Wynn of the AL took on Ernie Banks, Roberto Clemente, Stan Musial and Hank Aaron of the NL.

During the second All-Star Game in 1960 at Yankee Stadium, Ted Williams made his final All-Star appearance and Willie Mays was back in New York for the first time since the Giants packed up and headed west.

In 1973, Kansas City welcomed the stars of the 44th meeting with Sal Bando, Bert Campaneris, Rod Carew, Reggie Jackson, Catfish Hunter, Thurman Munson and the Yaz of the AL going up against Pete Rose, Bobby Bonds, Johnny Bench, Joe Torre and Tom Seaver of the NL.

This year’s 83rd All-Star Game in Kansas City saw a bunch of new faces like Mike Trout, Mark Trumbo, Chris Sale, Yu Darvish, Bryan LaHair, RA Dickey and the third youngest player ever in 19-year-old Bryce Harper.

One of the biggest thrills of the Midsummer Classic is making much-anticipated predictions of how the second half of the season will pan out and which teams will be heading to the Fall Classic.

In the AL East, the Yankees have baseball’s best record despite an aged lineup but apparently they still know how to win. New York has accumulated 50-plus wins at the break for the fifth season in a row and the 10th time in the last 12 seasons. Chances are they will be setting their postseason roster come late September.

The Red Sox avoided their first losing record at the All-Star break since 1997 but a .500 mark is certainly not getting the job done. Subpar performances from Adrian Gonzalez, Jon Lester and Josh Beckett haven’t helped in the standings along with DL stints by Jacoby Ellsbury, Carl Crawford and Clay Buchholz. The trade of Kevin Youkilis opens the door to some fresh blood in the lineup, namely Will Middlebrooks, but the Sox are seriously running out of time.

The Mets have been one of the biggest surprises this season as they enter the break six games over .500 in third place, just 4 ½ games off the pace in the NL East. The Mets pitched six shutouts in June with a league-best 2.79 ERA for their starters. Johan Santana threw the first no-hitter in the club’s history and Dickey authored back-to-back one-hitters, going 12-1.

The Mets could be the dark horse in the second half with a major-league-best 187 runs scored with two outs, leading to 17 come-from-behind victories. Another big surprise is the Pirates, leading the NL Central at the break for the first time since 1997.

It would be hard to imagine that they could hold off a late charge from the Reds and the Cardinals. The NL West looks like a photo finish between the Dodgers and the Giants. Washington has a strangle hold on the NL East but can all those young guys hold off the heat of a pennant race?

Don’t count out the Tigers from making a late run in the AL Central. There is just too much talent in the lineup to allow the White Sox and the Indians to sneak in under the wire. Texas has the second-best record in baseball and a lot won’t change that in the second half. If the Angels are going to see the postseason they will have to do it from the back seat in the wild card position.

The biggest disappointments of the season belong to Philadelphia, Miami, Colorado and Minnesota. My predictions for the playoff field include the Yankees, Tigers, Rangers, Angels, and White Sox in the AL, and the Mets, Reds, Giants, Dodgers, and Nationals in the NL.