2011 MLB All-Star Game: Why Ichiro Suzuki Is Perfect for the Home Run Derby
The Seattle Mariners' superstar Ichiro Suzuki is probably not the first player that comes to mind when you hear the words "slugger" or "home-run hitter." In fact, Ichiro does not even have 100 home runs in his 10 year MLB career so far.
So why do people even talk about Ichiro as deserving of a go in the Home Run Derby?
It's because, despite his reputation for being a slap-singles hitter, the power turns on at will during batting practice. And that's what the Derby really is, batting practice. You know what's coming and you smack the cover off the ball.
Those who have seen Ichiro taking batting practice before a game have been rewarded with the rare treat of seeing him hit screaming line drive after line drive, off of the dining lounge above the right field seats in spacious Safeco Field.
Ichiro's slight build and international reputation could breathe life into a Home Run Derby that, aside from Josh Hamilton's unforgettable 2008 first round, has been largely lack-luster.
AL East Division Rivalry
This isn't the strongest idea, but a dilemma exists for fans of teams in the AL East. Interestingly, all four contestants representing the American League hail from that division.
Mike Lowell may be gone, but the rivalry between the Red Sox and Yankees is alive and fierce. It's no surprise either that the entire AL East doesn't like each other. I'm sure the Orioles and Red Sox aren't best of friends after what went down the other night.
This year the Derby isn't just about an individual winner. It's about the AL against the NL, and seeing which league can muster more home runs.
Yankee fans would have a hard time rooting for fellow contestants David Ortiz and Adrian Gonzalez, and Red Sox fans would have a hard time cheering on Robinson Cano.
It's safe to say that all fans would be rooting for Ichiro, regardless of their favorite team. In an All-Star break and related festivities emphasizing league unity, Ichiro is someone tough to cheer against.
We've Seen Enough Sluggers
Remember last year's Home Run Derby?
Ortiz and Hanley Ramirez weren't bad, but the rest were pretty disappointing. Vernon Wells and Chris Young let out unceremonious farts, combining for just three home runs.
The Home Run Derby has always featured the best sluggers of the first half, as it rightfully should. But lately the long bombs have shortened, and the ensuing excitement deflated a bit. No longer do you have the consistent 500+ footers leaving the park that made the Derby so exciting back in the 1990's.
When you see the same thing year after year mixed in with a couple rats ruining the soup (like Wells and Young last year), the Derby can grow a bit stale.
Ichiro would certainly be something new for a contest that needs refreshing.
The Spud Webb/Nate Robinson Factor
I build on my previous point by using the NBA and its annual Dunk Contest.
Every year you get a nice show from the premier sluggers and fearsome dunkers, like Dwight Howard entertaining the crowd. But you know who really steals the evening?
The short guy with the vertical taller than his height. Three-time Dunk Contest winner Nate Robinson stands at 5'9". Hell, even I'm taller than him.
The point is, instead of the huge sluggers hogging the spotlight as they have in the entire history of the Home Run Derby, they could take a page out of the NBA's playbook and look for that player who can change up that time-hardened tradition.
Ichiro would certainly be the Nate Robinson of the Derby, turning heads and dropping jaws as his wiry frame belts home runs with the best of them. Any Derby that Ichiro participates in would definitely be one for the ages.
Ridiculous Buzz Surrounding the 2011 Home Run Derby
Ichiro hasn't had a great season, but he is without a doubt a superstar in the realm of baseball.
As the previous points have implied, Ichiro would bring an unexpected twist to the traditional events and pregame hoopla of the Home Run Derby.
Every year we get the same sort of debate over which slugger will be the last standing at the end of the night.
If Ichiro were to enter the Home Run Derby, you can bet the media and every news source covering the contest would be all over Ichiro.
Commercials, Baseball Tonight segments, sports-talk topics and just about everything else would be centered around Ichiro and his paradoxical appearance in the Home Run Derby.
After all, what could be a better story line than a 170 lb. hitter—with under 100 career home runs—entering a competition built for beefy power hitters? Just picturing the diminutive Ichiro standing amongst a hulking 6'4" Josh Hamilton or David Ortiz would get people interested.
And you can bet that all the hype and discussion will drive up ratings to astronomical numbers. Any baseball fan would have to watch Ichiro's home run ability for themselves.
Looking at what the NHL was able to achieve by adding an intriguing twist to their All-Star match, with selecting players playground-style, Baseball could stand to benefit from adding Ichiro to the Derby.
Ichiro's International Presence
Remember that Big Papi commercial for New Era Caps a while back, where the Red Sox fan got mobbed by adoring Japanese fans? Take that and multiply it by 10—no, 100—that's how big Ichiro is in Japan.
It's been ten years since Ichiro left for America, and he's still a national superhero in Japan. The Japanese media and millions of Japanese-American baseball fans follow anything he does.
Whenever Ichiro went for a milestone accomplishment—or even when Hideki "Godzilla" Matsui's team faced the Mariners—there was unbelievable buzz in the Japanese baseball community.
You can be guaranteed that there would be international media covering Ichiro's attempt at the Home Run Derby. His presence in the game would mean untold amounts of interest and attention for the Derby.
It would literally be several times more popular than the All-Star Game itself.
Ichiro Could Actually Win the Derby
Not only would Ichiro bring ridiculous amounts of media coverage to the Home Run Derby, he could very well end up winning it.
Just about everyone, when asked about Ichiro's chances in a Derby, has firmly stated that the Mariners star would win—even former M's manager Lou Piniella.
Said former Mariners closer, All-Star J.J Putz:
"I would put my whole year's salary on it that he would win. You've seen him in batting practice hit 12 out in a row. And not just wall scrapers, but peppering the Hit It Here Cafe off the windows seven, eight times in a row."
At the end of the day the Derby is glorified batting practice, and Ichiro puts on a jaw-dropping show when he takes his daily BP.
You have to wonder if Ichiro will ever accept an invitation to the Home Run Derby (he and Ortiz are close friends), but if he were to ever compete, it would be a fitting honor for a future Hall of Famer.