NEW YORK -- So long, Yankee Stadium. Get ready for an All-Star salute featuring the rival Boston Red Sox.
That’s right. Manny Ramirez, Kevin Youkilis and Co. are set to take over The House That Ruth Built. At last check, four Boston players led fan voting at their positions for the July 15 game in New York -- and that doesn’t even include manager Terry Francona or any of his pitchers.
Just picture it: A row of grinning Red Sox, coming off their latest championship, getting booed furiously while lining up along the first base line as America tunes in for baseball’s big tribute to Yankee Stadium in its final season.
Curses! Not exactly what George Steinbrenner had in mind.
But the Yankees figure to be well-represented themselves: Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and Mariano Rivera, all preening in pinstripes under the lights.
So, it’s time to pick the All-Stars for this extravagant send-off in the South Bronx, where so much history already has been made. Complete with dozens of Hall of Famers who plan to attend, call it a Broadway-caliber cast fit for the grandest stage in sports.
As usual, the choices aren’t easy. Chase Utley or Dan Uggla at second base in the National League? Josh Hamilton or Grady Sizemore in center field for the AL?
“I’m really hopeful that this is going to go well. I’ve got some worries,” said Francona, who will help select the American League squad and then manage it from the Yankees’ home dugout.
The annual debate is part of the fun, though. So is the sight of newcomers such as Tim Lincecum and Carlos Quentin teaming up with old standbys such as Chipper Jones and Roy Halladay.
Without regard to fan balloting, here are our picks for the 79th All-Star game -- and first in New York since 1977. The teams will be revealed today, and the league that wins will get home-field advantage in the World Series again.
Starting with the AL:
* First Base -- Youkilis edges out Yankees slugger Jason Giambi for the start, thanks to splendid defense. It would be Youkilis’ first All-Star selection, and Giambi’s first invitation since 2004. RBI machine Justin Morneau of the Minnesota Twins also earns a bid.
* Second Base -- Texas first-timer Ian Kinsler leads the league in runs scored by a wide margin and ranks near the top of several other categories. His backup is Baltimore’s Brian Roberts, enjoying yet another solid season.
* Shortstop -- Jeter is having a so-so year by his high standards, but he’s done more than enough throughout his clutch career to deserve the start on this night -- in his house. Besides, there’s really not an AL shortstop who is having a big season. Michael Young of the Rangers takes second string.
* Third Base -- Despite missing three weeks with a leg injury, Rodriguez is the class of this field. Tampa Bay rookie Evan Longoria also makes it, but Boston’s Mike Lowell was an extremely difficult omission.
* Catcher -- Sweet-swinging Joe Mauer of the Twins easily earns the start. Rays backstop Dioner Navarro also gets recognized for quiet excellence on offense and defense. Ivan Rodriguez represents the Tigers, which would be his 15th selection.
* Outfield -- Stocked with surprises and comeback stories. Quentin (White Sox) starts in left, Hamilton (Rangers) in center and J.D. Drew (Red Sox) in right. The reserves include Ramirez, Chicago’s Jermaine Dye, Tampa Bay’s B.J. Upton and Sizemore (Indians).
* Designated Hitter -- Texas’ Milton Bradley has tamed his temper enough to become one of baseball’s best hitters. He’s the only choice here, though Baltimore’s Aubrey Huff warrants consideration.
* Starting Pitchers -- Cleveland left-hander Cliff Lee (11-1, 2.26 ERA) gets the start. Joining him on the staff are Los Angeles Angels teammates Joe Saunders and Ervin Santana, Oakland’s Justin Duchscherer, Seattle’s Felix Hernandez and Halladay (Toronto). Early season injuries cost John Lackey and Scott Kazmir, though both have great numbers.
* Relievers -- Rivera anchors a lights-out bullpen that also includes Angels closer Francisco Rodriguez, Boston’s Jonathan Papelbon, Minnesota’s Joe Nathan, Kansas City’s Joakim Soria and Orioles lefty George Sherrill.
And in the NL:
* First Base -- Houston switch-hitter Lance Berkman is having a huge season. He could make a run at the Triple Crown if Jones’ average drops. St. Louis slugger Albert Pujols can start at DH. San Diego’s Adrian Gonzalez and Chicago’s Derrek Lee also make it at a power-packed position that leaves no room for Mark Teixeira, Prince Fielder or Conor Jackson. Ryan Howard has a ton of homers and RBIs, but a ton of strikeouts as well.
* Second Base -- By a slim margin, Utley (Philadelphia) tops Uggla (Florida) to earn the start. Both are MVP contenders, too.
* Shortstop -- One of the game’s most talented performers, Hanley Ramirez of the Marlins is the clear choice here for his first All-Star appearance. New York Mets speedster Jose Reyes claims a backup role.
* Third Base -- Jones (Atlanta) flirted with a .400 batting average for much of the first half. His backups are New York’s David Wright and Chicago’s Aramis Ramirez.
* Catcher -- Brian McCann of the Braves gets the No. 1 spot with two players behind him: Cubs rookie Geovany Soto and Russell Martin of the Dodgers.
* Outfield -- Another surprising group. Pat Burrell of the Phillies starts in left, with Pittsburgh’s Nate McLouth in center and St. Louis’ Ryan Ludwick in right. On the bench are Colorado’s Matt Holliday, Pittsburgh’s Jason Bay and Houston’s Carlos Lee.
* Starting Pitchers -- Cincinnati’s Edinson Volquez (10-3, 2.24 ERA) won at Yankee Stadium last month and barely beats out Lincecum (San Francisco) for starting honors. The rest of the staff features Arizona teammates Brandon Webb and Dan Haren, Milwaukee ace Ben Sheets, Rockies workhorse Aaron Cook, Philadelphia lefty Cole Hamels and Chicago right-hander Carlos Zambrano -- as long as he’s healthy. If not, his spot goes to Cubs teammate Ryan Dempster. Kyle Lohse of the Cardinals was difficult to omit.
* Relievers -- Phillies closer Brad Lidge is joined in the bullpen by Chicago’s Kerry Wood, Washington’s Jon Rauch and Mets lefty Billy Wagner.