As we prepare to enter the All-Star Break, the table is set once again for the pinnacle exhibition of the mid-season sabbatical for 95% of MLB’s paid performers: The Home Run Derby.
Just as high-speed collisions are to NASCAR spectators, baseball fans love the long ball. While the format of this statistically meaningless display of baseball’s feats of strength continues to evolve, it continues to entertain the masses through psychological bliss that parallels that of weekend duck hunters firing 12-gauge buckshot into a sky full of fowl. Nonetheless, many of us will tune in (or set those DVRs) to observe the carnage of cork and cowhide in this layman’s equivalent to rock skipping across the pond.
Historically, the usual suspects participating in this spectacle are fan favorites known season over season for their explosive facilities. We have come to expect the likes of the Ortiz, Pujols, Howard and Fielder calibers to show up and dominate these contests. Looking back during the dark days of the Era of Anabolics, we even proclaim a collective groan at the memory of contest mainstays like Bonds, Sosa, McGwire and Giambi. But…
What about the little guys for whom this marked a high point (if not the defining moment) in an otherwise unremarkable professional career?
The John Jaha’s who tagged along for the event during his single All-Star game appearance during his Comeback Player of the Year season in ’99. The Hee-Seop Choi’s whose appearance could be strongly attributed to hitting six home runs during a three game series in the weeks prior to the event during an otherwise unimpressive ‘05 campaign which proved to be his last in the league. The super-utility Brandon Inge’s whose ’09 participation also accompanied an atypical All-Star appearance. (Note: Inge became one of only eight participants to not have a single ball leave the yard during the event). Hat tips and hand claps to all of these guys and the like for their contribution to the sport.
Another rare phenomenon of the derby is the lack of second basemen who have graced this parade with their presence. Of recent memory, we all acknowledge Robinson Cano who was the first at the position to trump this match since Ryne Sandberg in 1990 (with merely three homeruns). Since that time, only two others (Brett Boone and Ricky Weeks) have represented the number four spot from the field in these festivities.
So that brings us to this year and one Brian Dozier. What do we make of this kid? He is at the magic breakout age of twenty-seven and a late-bloomer of sorts with little ink on his professional resume. His astonishing season to date can be attributed to a monster April where he launched seven of his sixteen bombs and scored twenty-five runs which surpassed a team record of Paul Molitor’s which had held for nearly two decades.
While most of one-year wonders that have accompanied their homo-superior brethren to this slug-fest in the past were within the tail-end of their major league mediocrity, Dozier’s tale is just beginning. Only time will tell which category his legacy will reside when we look back on this year’s mid-summer classic in the seasons to come. In the meantime, we can just sit back and cheer for the “David” in the pack of “Goliaths” once again and wait for the baseball that counts to resume.