NEW YORK CITY — He was there in 1973 and he’ll be there again in July.
If there’s one thing Bud Selig loves about the middle of summer, it’s Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game. And the fact that it’s coming to Kansas City, well, that just makes this season’s agenda all the more appealing to the longtime MLB commissioner and former owner of the Milwaukee Brewers.
“I have a great feeling for Kansas City,” Selig said recently at MLB’s headquarters along Park Avenue. “It goes back to my many years in baseball, when the Brewers and Royals had a great rivalry in the ‘70s and ‘80s. I was reminded of it again by (former Brewer) Robin Yount, who had just been talking to George Brett down at spring training.
“Rob and I sat one afternoon and replayed a lot of that rivalry – it was a great rivalry.”
Selig, who will have held the game’s highest office for 14 years on July 9 and celebrates his 78th birthday on July 30, has presided over a marked increase in interest surrounding the game — not only on the part of fans, but also among cities vying to host the event and all of its peripheral activities, such as the Home Run Derby, five-day FanFest and Futures and Celebrity Softball games.
Kansas City has been waiting its turn since renovating Kauffman Stadium, a project begun in 2007 and completed in 2009. The last time Kansas City hosted an All-Star Game was in 1973, when the facility was brand new and known as Royals Stadium.
“Fifteen years ago, you couldn’t give an All-Star Game away,” Selig said. “You had to beg someone to take it. I remember what I went through – ‘Please, you guys gotta take this game.’ Now they’re lined up all over the place and I’m trying to keep people happy.”
Among the highlights of the July 10 game will be Tony La Russa’s return to Missouri. The former Cardinals manager retired after leading St. Louis past the Texas Rangers in last season’s World Series. He will manage the National League team while Rangers manager Ron Washington leads the American League squad.
“I love the All-Star Game,” said La Russa, who has been serving as a part-time special projects officer for Selig at the MLB offices in Manhattan. “Coaching, managing, whatever. It’s the best baseball players in the world, and I appreciate the opportunity.”
Quick to add that, “He’ll do great,” before following up with, “Oh wait, I can’t say that: I’m neutral,” Selig went on to sing the praises of Kansas City as a baseball town. He said he likes both the city and its resident ownership.
“It’s a wonderful baseball market,” Selig said. “I know (owner) David Glass is really trying to rebuild the (club’s) image. It was a great franchise under Ewing Kauffman and I have great faith in David Glass as one of our best owners in baseball. And so I’m excited about Kansas City. It will be a great opportunity.”
Selig knows the rest of the country has long associated one name above all others with baseball in Kansas City. And with a franchise-record 13 All-Star appearances to his credit, George Brett has earned every ounce of that respect. But you can count Selig among those who believe there are big things in store for Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer and the rest of the club’s budding talent.
“You know, wherever I went in spring training, it was really interesting,” Selig said. “Everybody kept telling me the Royals have the best farm system in baseball — have this enormous talent.
“I love (Royals manager) Ned Yost, for reasons you can figure out without me having to detail them out (think: Milwaukee connection), and I know they’re struggling right now. But everybody in baseball can’t be wrong. They have a lot of talent and I really am looking forward to the All-Star Game. I have a great feeling for Kansas City.”