July 14, 2008
It's been raining in New York this morning and one has to wonder if that's a higher power's way of saying that he agrees with Ken Rosenthal and that A-Rod should be participating in tonight's Home Run Derby at Yankee Stadium. Nothing against this year's crop of long ball lads, but the field has the possibility of leading a man to drink.
Sure, Chase Utley could go all Bobby Abreu on us or Ryan Braun could blast a dozen balls off the plaques in Monument Alley. But let's just say the burden of proof is on the field. At the very least, guys like Evan Longoria and Dan Uggla will do well to avoid knocking off and replacing someone from the list of the 10 worst Home Run Derby participants below.
The ranking is a true BLS collaboration — Nick Friedell picked the list, taking into account both name recognition and Derby performance. David Brown wrote the capsules. 'Duk downloaded that picture of Jason Bay and wrote this intro.
At any rate, let's get into it ...
10. Chris Sabo — Skydome, Toronto, '91
Another fine — if goofy lookin' — player in his own right. The Reds' Spuds was just miscast in a derby. Put it into 2008 terms. Would you invite Casey Blake (with speed and rec specs) to a home run derby? Maybe if it was the derby you had in your neighborhood, and Blake was kind enough to take your best offer of $42 and a bed for the night (no cable hookup in his room, though). Zero homers for Goggles in '91.
9. Garret Anderson — U.S. Cellular Field, Chicago, '03
The fact that Anderson — who never managed more than 35 dingers for the Angels in any BALCO-era season — actually WON his derby makes no difference. His selection is as curious as the decision his parents made to let him go through life with an incomplete first name. Also, if they ever have a "Line Drive To The Opposite Field" contest, or a "Never, Ever, Ever Say Anything That Gets Quoted In A Newspaper" contest, sign up ol' G.A. Such derbys would fit him to a T — but not two T's!
8. Jason Bay — Comerica Park, Detroit, '05
Most thought it would be tough to knock homers out of the vast expanses of Comerica and it was — at least for Bay, who hit zero. The Pirates' Bay was representing Canada in the United Nations version of the derby and, as they sometimes say the Great White North: "Have another donut, eh?"
7. Hank Blalock — Minute Maid Park, Houston, '04
Hank for the Rangers in '04 hit a lot of homers for a third baseman — but this ain't the Graig Nettles Home Run Derby, or the Ron Cey Home Run Derby. Russell Branyan might be the odds-on favorite if that's how they did it. The main reason he was added to the derby in '04 probably was because he won the 2003 All-Star Game with a homer against Eric Gagne (yes, it used to be hard to do!) Hank hit three homers (as did Big Papi, to be fair) at the Juice Box.
6. Ray Lankford — Jacobs Field, Cleveland, '97
Speaking of contest ideas that never will happen: an obstacle course that starts with some light throwing to a target and ends by BOWLING OVER THE CATCHER. Call it the Fossethon, commemorating Pete Rose's obliteration of Ray Fosse at the '70 ASG. Lankford also had one of the greatest such plays of recorded on film, in '91 against Dutch Daulton. Such a contest would have been better for the Cardinals' Lankford, one of the '90s most underrated players, who went deep twice in 'the 97 derby.
5. Ellis Burks — Veterans Stadium, Philadelphia, '96
That season was the perfect storm for Burks, whose best home-run output had been 21 in hitter-friendly Fenway in 1990. Many wondered what a really good hitter - not Dante Bichette or even Vinny Castilla - would do in 5,200 feet above sea level and, by the time Burks reached his third season in Colorado, he was healthy and he showed us. He actually hit well at the Vet for his career, but to assume that Burks would bring the frost-brewed mountain air with him to Philly? Fuggetabouttit. He went deep once in the derby.
4. Damion Easley — Coors Field, Denver, '98
First name is Jacinto. Your next question should be, "What in the name of Sweet Lou Whitaker was Jacinto Damion Easley doing at an All-Star Game in the first place???" Before you call your congressman or try to get Jean-Claude Van Damme to go back in time to fix this perceived blot on history, note that Damion hit 19 homers for the Tigers in the first half of '98. Plus, he played second base, so he deserved to be at Coors, where he homered twice. Manny Ramirez could have participated, but must have begged out. Mo Vaughn was hurt. Juan Gonzalez? Ben Grieve (Devil Rays)? Paul O'Neill? Darin Erstad? Ivan Rodriguez? Cal Jr.? Dean Palmer? Go ask 'em, if ya' can find 'em!
3. B.J. Surhoff — Fenway Park, Boston, '99
B.J. Surhoff? In a home-run hitting contest? Next thing you know, some TV network will give Magic Johnson a late-night talk show. Surhoff, though, had 20 for the Orioles at the break in '99 — which doesn't make a whole lot of sense by itself for a guy with a career slugging percentage of .413 — until you realize that everyone had 20 at the break in '99. Give the guy this: he hit twice as many homers — two — as Sammy Sosa hit in the derby.
2. Steve Garvey — Metrodome, Minneapolis, '85
The derby was in its first year, so it certainly could use the "I was young, I didn't know what I was doing, I needed the money" defense. But it already had some great power names of the time — Jim Rice, Eddie Murray, Dale Murphy, Carlton Fisk, Jack Clark and Dave Parker, who won the whole thing. Known also for his big forearms, friendly grin and reportedly an uncommon ability to procreate, Garvey did reach the 30-homer plateau — in 1977! — but by the mid-'80s, he shouldn't have been at an All-Star Game, unless it was to do color commentary. He had hit eight, count 'em, eight homers in '84 and an OK 13 at the break for the Padres in '85. Darryl Strawberry, Tim Wallach, Terry Kennedy — heck, Nettles — any of them would have been better for the derby. Garvey's fruit bore two homers at the HumpDome.
1. Hee-Seop Choi — Comerica Park, Detroit, '05
To promote the upcoming World Baseball Classic, MLB changed the derby format to pit players from different countries against each other. Like war! The NL and AL rosters oozed with North and South American talent, but what of the Far East Question? Hideki Matsui didn't make the squad and probably went on vacation, Ichiro probably refused to participate and Kenji Johjima was still in Japan, which left MLB with a Hobson's Choice — either just don't represent Asia, or pick a guy who's not of All-Star breeding. "We must have Asians!" Bud Selig said (no he didn't), so they picked the Dodgers' Choi, a nice lug from Korea who Jack McKeon always thought was from China. He was technically a power hitter — in the sense that Jose Canseco is a writer — and he hit five home runs in the derby, but c'mon. If Japan, Taiwan, Korea, Brunei et all REALLY would have been offended being left out of the derby, then we just should have said no to the United Nations angle.