It’s not even two weeks into the season, and already we're getting our first nugget of All-Star Game festivities chatter.
Bring it on!
Undoubtedly, the MLB's Home Run Derby, held the Monday night before the All-Star Game, has become king of all the All-Star festivity events.
The NBA dunk contest hasn't meant anything in years, since the days of MJ and Dominique Wilkins, back during a time when the elite of the game actually competed, and wanted victory, in the event.
The NHL skills competition is fantastic, but just like the rest of the sport, hasn't found the wide-ranging audience it deserves.
And the NFL Pro Bowl? Let's just imagine that it never actually happens.
But the derby, each year, provides us with fascinating storylines, breathtaking performances, and a chance to oggle the game's elite pulling off the greatest feat in sports, the home run.
No matter how old I get, I'll never grow weary of plunking down on my couch each July to take in the event, one of the 10 best days in sports.
So it came, as music to my ears on Thursday when it was announced that Albert Pujols plans to take part in this year's contest. It's only fitting, seeing how it's going to be in front of his frenzied home crowd at Busch Stadium.
This will be the Cardinals' sluggers' third time competing, his first since 2007. Back in '03 he made it all the way to the finals at U.S. Cellular Field, where he lost to Garret Anderson (Garret Anderson!?) by a mere one long ball.
Being one of the faces of baseball's shrinking steroid-free heroes list, it's always a treat to watch Pujols swing the bat, let alone knowing that he's looking to go yard.
He, along with many others, has said they don't really like to take part in the competition because it messes with their swing. This is a reasonable argument, but for the sake of the fans, who in all reality the game is actually for, it's always better to have the big-name boys swinging the lumber.
And I'm sure once they get going, and the crowd is getting in to it, they forget all about the few games worth of mechanics they're sacrificing for the sake of the derby.
After all, it's the freaking home run derby. It's awesome!
So with the news of Albert signing in blood to participate, it got me to thinking about whom else I'd like to spend my July 13 night with.
And so, in no particular order, here are my picks for the other seven contestants to participate in the Home Run Derby.
* Alex Rodriguez
Sure, the guy's recovering from surgery and hasn't even participated in a game this season. But come on, who needs it—and I mean REALLY needs it—more than A-Rod? This guy is coming off one of the most damaging offseasons in recent memory, and without question the Derby can be his saving grace.
Look, we all know the lepers that Bonds, Clemens, Sosa and McGuire became because of their (cough) alleged (cough) steroid use. But I believe that the way they handled their respective situations was more of a factor in their becoming media and social outcasts, than their actual cheating did.
America, especially its sports fans, are forgiving people.
It's the media's 24/7 cramming information and coverage down our throats that creates the illusion of hatred and repulsion toward these people. But, in my heart, I believe that had they simply manned up to what they did, apologized (sincerely), and asked for the fans forgiveness, that they truly would have received it.
Instead, Bonds was nothing but egotistical, Clemens let his friends take the fall and played the blame game, Sosa pulled a no-speakie-English act, and McGuire merely faded into oblivion.
But A-Rod has a chance to be better than that.
No, he didn't help his cause with the lame Peter Gammons interview, the sketchy cousin information, or the Details Magazine spread.
But there is still time. And it can start with the Derby.
Look, A-Rod is going to get A LOT of bashing when he returns, both from rival fans as well as the New York ones, but that's to be expected. It's part of the game, and it was happening before all of the steroid stuff came out.
But if he can come back, perform at the level we've all come to expect from him, and then opts to participate; I truly feel he can win back the fans. So long as two things happen, this could be a huge success story this summer
1.) He MUST submit to a public drug test the week before the event, no exceptions. Like it or not, people are still going to be skeptical. No better way to quiet the crowd than to throw that fact that he's clean right in their face.
2.) He damn well better put on a show. If A-Rod does decide to play, then pulls a Jason Bay (zero home runs), he will never, EVER, live it down. He needs to pull off a near Hamilton-esque performance, or else the crowd might eat him alive.
But I think he can do it. And for the sake of the game, I hope he does.
* Josh Hamilton
Speaking of Hamilton-esque, was there anything more enjoyable than watching the awesome show Josh Hamilton put on last year? I think not.
Sure, we had the drugs storyline shoved in our faces the entire night, but by the time the first round was over (a record 28 home runs later), it was all worth it.
Hamilton put on the single most jaw-dropping performance in the history of the Derby. I can still remember the hair on my arms sticking up as each swing of the bat resulted in a perfect arched ball sailing into the upper-deck of Yankee Stadium (and one even OUT of it).
Nobody remembers that Justin Morneau actually won the derby (hell, I don't think Morneau even remembers that he won). All we remember is the Babe Ruthian performance Josh put forth in the legendary ballpark's swansong that even the Babe would have been proud of.
He deserves another chance.
* Ken Griffey Jr.
Is this Juniors last year?
Many believe that it is, and what better way to end it (other than getting that elusive World Series ring) than to put on one last show in the contest that the man himself made popular.
I remember being a young kid, watching the beauty of Griffey's swing, backwards cap and all, as he made a mockery of the long ball, poking pitches over the wall with ease. He certainly captivated America by making a name for himself as one of the Derby's greatest contestants.
In fact, he is THE greatest contestant, having slugged a record 70 home runs in his eight previous appearances in the contest, the last having come way back in the year 2000!
Nine years between gigs is a long time. Far too long for the man many believe would be the rightful owner of baseball's home run record, if not for some unfortunate injuries that plagued the later years of his career.
Now, though, is the time for one last triumphant return for Junior. If indeed this is his last season, I want to see him go out in a blaze of glory, riding off into the sunset with one final derby trophy, symbolically christening him as our generation's greatest home run hitter.
* Manny Ramirez
Can you believe that Manny Ramirez hasn't been a part of the derby since 1995?
19 frickin' 95!
That lone appearance resulted in three home runs, and since then we've endured Richie Sexson in the Derby twice—twice! Yet not a single another show from Manny.
Talk about long overdue.
Ramirez—the $45 million man—seems to earn his money every night out there in L.A. The crowd loves him, he continues to be a catalyst for that team, and he continues to pump storylines into the media—the most recent being his comments about wanting to end his career back in Cleveland.
But how about this storyline: Ramirez opts to participate in Derby, guarantees victory!
Eh? Sounds intriguing doesn't it?
Okay, so maybe he doesn't have to guarantee victory—although that would be hilarious—but if he truly does enjoy the game as much as his teammates and the media claim he does, then why not take a hack at the Derby once again (pun intended).
To me, the only way to make this cooler would be if the All-Star festivities were being held at Fenway.
* Ryan Howard
The reigning home run king opted out of last year's contest after an embarrassing '07 performance (three home runs), but one year off should be enough to sooth his ego.
Howard, one of the best power hitters in the game, has no excuses NOT to participate.
He can't use the ole’ "it'll mess up my mechanics" routine, because, as I see it, he has none.
Howard is constantly 0-for-4 with three strikeouts or 1-for-3 with a towering home run. There is rarely an in-between, which is what makes him so frustrating to own in fantasy leagues!
Plus, topping the league in home runs two of the last three seasons, it should be mandatory that he participate. Otherwise, what are all those home runs good for? Winning a World Series?
Take the power show to the stage the fans really want to see it on—the Derby!
* Evan Longoria
Early on, Evan is proving that his outstanding rookie campaign was no fluke, and that he's going to be one of the best talents to watch for many years to come.
That being said, if there was one pitfall to his '08 season, it would be his disappointing three home run appearance in the derby.
But we can chalk that one up to nerves.
Everyone deserves a mulligan, and I'd love for him to get it this year. He's got one of the sweetest power swings in the game, and he represents everything we hope to get from our upcoming generation of superstars (or the stars of tomorrow, today!)
Imagine, clashing the stars of yesteryear (Griffey) with tomorrow's talents (Longoria), pitting them in a long ball battle among some of the game's greatest hitters. You can't possibly go wrong with that!
* Adam Dunn
This is another guy who seems to be in the final stretch of his playing days—but man can he hit a baseball!
Like Howard, it's usually all or nothing with Dunn. But when he does connect, the ball travels, on average, like 440 feet.
This contest was MADE for him.
Picture it. Adam Dunn at the plate, not trying to do anything but put the ball over the Gateway Arch.
That has Josh Hamilton II written all over it.
So what do you guys think? Like this list? Hate it? Let me know who you'd like to see swingin' for the fences come July!
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!