B/R MLB Community: Who Would You Pay to Watch in the Home Run Derby?July 8, 2021
B/R MLB Community: Who Would You Pay to Watch in the Home Run Derby?
Welcome to the Bleacher Report MLB community article!
This week's question was simple: "Who is one player, past or present, who you would pay money to see in a Home Run Derby and why?"
There was a wide variety of answers, but a few prolific sluggers were mentioned more frequently than the rest.
Ahead we've highlighted the five players who came up the most frequently, along with a few of the more notable outside-the-box picks and some love for some of the all-time greats before Monday's event in Denver.
Let's dive right in.
If you'd like to have your question or hot take included in a future mailbag, be on the lookout each Monday afternoon for the crowdsourcing thread on the MLB stream in the B/R app.
"[Vlad Jr.] vs. his dad would be impressive to see." (@prhjr15)
Love it! In fact, I'm fully on board with the idea of a father vs. son derby. Add in Ken Griffey Sr. vs. Ken Griffey Jr., Dante Bichette vs. Bo Bichette, Fernando Tatis vs. Fernando Tatis Jr. and Cecil Fielder vs. Prince Fielder and you've got an awfully competitive field.
"Matt Stairs. Dude could hit some tanks." (@HOUSportsGuy)
The enduring memory many baseball fans have of Matt Stairs is the moonshot he hit off Jonathan Broxton as a pinch hitter in Game 4 of the 2008 NLCS at age 40. All told, he hit 265 home runs over a 19-year MLB career, peaking with 38 long balls as a member of the Oakland Athletics in 1999.
"Ichiro, no question." (@Willas96)
"The legends his teammates have told all these years are true. In batting practice, Ichiro is The Babe. He parks pitch after pitch into the right-field stands. A few land in the upper deck. The power swing he uses in BP is a left-handed glide that looks like a scale model of Griffey's," ESPN.com's Tommy Tomlinson wrote in 2016.
"If it's to bring any player back for the 2021 derby at Coors, it has to be Troy Tulowitzki, right?" (@dcamp5)
If I'm pulling anyone from Colorado Rockies history to return in his prime for this year's showcase at Coors Field, I'm probably going back to the 1990s and someone like Andres Galarraga or Larry Walker. Can't go wrong with the Tulo pick, though.
"Dave Kingman and Frank Howard." (@reakin1)
Frank Howard was my grandfather's favorite player, and he talked often about the towering 6'7" slugger who hit 382 home runs in an underrated career. Dave Kingman was one of baseball's first all-or-nothing sluggers, hitting 442 bombs with a .236 average and 1,816 career strikeouts.
"Babe Ruth. The guy was hitting more home runs by himself than other teams were. To see him with modern training techniques would be something special." (@AcesAnd8s)
If you're building a derby field of players throughout baseball history, the list has to start with the guy who set the standard for modern-day power-hitting. I was genuinely surprised he didn't crack the five most common answers.
"How about Ted Williams? Dude basically hit 521 bombs for a career that was broken up by fighting in the war. Easily should have hit 700. Plus he hit a 502-foot bomb now marked by the red seat at Fenway." (@pmivas1)
After leading the AL in home runs in 1941 (37) and 1942 (36), Williams missed the next three seasons serving his country in World War II. Those were his age-24, -25 and -26 campaigns, and he had already established himself as a bona fide superstar, so at least another 100 on his career tally of 521 seems reasonable. The best pure hitter the game has ever seen would no doubt hold his own in a home run contest.
"The Mick. Rumor is he could hit a HR anytime he wanted in batting practice." (@prhjr15)
Mickey Mantle may not have participated in a traditional Derby, but he was featured in the short-running TV show Home Run Derby that aired for 26 episodes in 1960. If you've never seen it, Episode 1 is a great place to start, with Mantle squaring off against Willie Mays for the cash prize of $2,000.
"I'll go the homer route and say Roberto Clemente. Dude could put the ball anywhere he wanted to. You don't think he'd rack up some HRs if the situation called for it?" (@Fatfancy)
With 240 career home runs and a single-season high of just 29 long balls in his 18-year career, Clemente was not a traditional power hitter. That said, I'm inclined to agree with the idea that his elite bat control and contact skills could be put to good use in a derby.
No. 5 Most Common Answer: Adam Dunn
"I don't know if Adam Dunn ever participated, but if he didn't, I think that would have been a missed opportunity." (@angt222)
The imposing 6'6", 285-pound Adam Dunn was made for the Home Run Derby, yet he never participated in one during his 14-year career with the Cincinnati Reds, Chicago White Sox, Washington Nationals, Arizona Diamondbacks and Oakland A's.
He was an All-Star in 2002 and 2012, so he was already in attendance at All-Star Weekend during those two seasons, and we've seen plenty of sluggers participate in the Derby without being named to the All-Star team.
The story of the 535-foot home run that Dunn launched out of Great American Ball Park off Jose Lima in 2004 is the stuff of legend.
"Dunn's homer to center field landed on Mehring Way and bounced approximately another 200 feet to the banks of the Ohio River before resting on a piece of driftwood. Technically, the state line begins at the riverbank. That means Dunn hit one to another state—Kentucky—and no one else can claim that," Mark Sheldon of MLB.com wrote.
"Big Donkey" hit at least 40 home runs six times on his way to 462, which ranks 37th all-time.
How was this man never in a Home Run Derby?!
No. 4 Most Common Answer: Mark McGwire
"Big Mac. I wanna see 500-footers in a HR derby and he's the king of monster shots." (@notRonBurgundy)
Mark McGwire was a frequent Home Run Derby participant, starting in 1987 when he was midway through a season that saw him set the rookie record with 49 home runs.
All told, he competed in the Derby six times—1987, 1990, 1992, 1996, 1997, 1998 and 1999—and while he took home the title in 1992 at Jack Murphy Stadium in San Diego, it was his performance at Fenway Park in 1999 that stands out.
He led all sluggers with 13 home runs in the first round that year, many of which were picturesque blasts over the Green Monster in left field. Jeromy Burnitz and Ken Griffey Jr. would ultimately advance to the finals, but McGwire stole the show.
He hit 70 home runs in 1998 and another 65 long balls the following year on his way to 583 homers in his 16 big league seasons.
Even in the home stretch of his career, McGwire was still a lethal slugger.
He hit .305/.483/.746 with 32 home runs in 321 plate appearances during the 2000 season, and in his final year in the big leagues in 2001, he saw 29 of his 56 hits leave the yard.
No one in MLB history has homered more frequently than Big Mac's career rate of one every 10.6 at-bats.
No. 3 Most Common Answer: Barry Bonds
"Bonds. Best HR hitter of all-time. Make sure he and the balls are juiced." (@ShaggyRogers)
All the performance-enhancing drugs in the world can't give a player elite hand-eye coordination, electric bat speed and a hitting eye that is unrivaled in MLB history.
Barry Bonds could hit home runs like no one else.
During the four-year stretch from 2001 through 2004, he batted .349/.559/.809 while averaging 52 home runs in 410 at-bats per season. He saw, maybe, one good pitch per game to hit, and he still managed to deposit balls into McCovey Cove with staggering frequency.
Whether you laud his career accomplishments or question his integrity, he could put on a show like few players before or since, and that's what the Derby is all about.
Bonds was no stranger to the event. He appeared six times—1992, 1993, 1996, 2001, 2002 and 2004—and edged McGwire for the title in 1996 when the two prolific sluggers went head-to-head at Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia.
Love him or hate him, Bonds could rake.
No. 2 Most Common Answer: Josh Hamilton
"Some of y'all never heard of Josh Hamilton." (@pattyice81)
"I'd like to see Josh Hamilton in the HR derby again! The night that he won was REALLY spectacular, as was his comeback story to baseball." (@LadyScorpio)
"Josh Hamilton, hands down. Nobody is close to his performance." (@GardyParty30)
The new, timed format that the Home Run Derby adopted in 2015 has meant more home runs, fewer takes, and a more fast-paced, entertaining event.
It has also helped put into perspective just how impressive Josh Hamilton was in 2008.
The Texas Rangers slugger hit a stunning 28 home runs during the first round that year despite being saddled by the 10-out limit. It was one of the most awe-inspiring things I've ever seen on a baseball field and was a career highlight after a long journey for the No. 1 overall pick in the 1999 draft.
That total has only been surpassed three times since the format change, even though players now take significantly more swings during the five-minute rounds.
Hamilton ran out of gas and lost to Justin Morneau in the finals, but his showcase goes down as one of the greatest displays of power-hitting prowess the game has ever seen.
No. 1 Most Common Answer: Ken Griffey Jr.
"There is only one answer, and it is Ken Griffey Jr." (@casey_rose)
"Ken Griffey Jr. Love watching him bat! He has one of the best swings I've ever seen in baseball! (@loradoyle)
"Griffey. He had the prettiest swing." (@GAdawgs2577)
No surprise here.
Ken Griffey Jr. remains one of the most popular sports figures of the last 50 years, and with perhaps the sweetest swing baseball has ever seen, he was a joy to watch compete in the Home Run Derby.
And he competed plenty, swinging it in the event a whopping eight times during the 11-year stretch from 1990 through 2000, and launching a then-record 70 home runs in his Derby career.
He won the event in 1994 (over Fred McGriff), 1998 (over Jim Thome) and 1999 (over Jeromy Burnitz), making him the only three-time winner in history. Prince Fielder and Yoenis Cespedes are the only other players to win twice.
There are a lot of fun ways to respond to this question, but as @casey_rose commented, this may indeed be the only answer.
All stats and Home Run Derby totals courtesy of Baseball Reference.