All-Star sluggers weigh Derby participation
Homer contest a fan favorite day before Midsummer Classic
The All-Star votes have been cast, and now the casting call is out for sluggers. Before the National and American Leagues go over the signs for the 81st Midsummer Classic, eight marquee swingers will go over the wall in Angel Stadium.
The State Farm Home Run Derby is one of sports' great opening acts, and the climax of next Monday's All-Star Workout Day activities will be suitably star-studded.Stars who are studs. Step right up. The fans have voiced their preferences, with their top three choices from each league in online voting to influence the eventual selections, and some of the top candidates have already voiced their interest. Milwaukee's Corey Hart, in fact, quickly stepped up as the first confirmed entrant. "Yeah, they already called me. I'm excited," Hart said after his 19th homer had accounted for the Brewers' lone run in a 7-1 loss Sunday to fellow NL All-Star Adam Wainwright of the Cardinals. Toronto outfielder Jose Bautista, the Major League home run leader with 21, could be next. "I've thought about it. I've got mixed feelings about it so far. Obviously, it's something you've got to consider if they do contact me about it," said Bautista, who sounded already aware of one deterrent to participating. "I've heard a couple of guys have gotten messed up after they've been in it," Bautista said. "I've been in a couple in the Minor Leagues since I've played and I've never had problems. Plus, there'd be a lot of pressure on you on the big stage. We'll see." Some other prime Derby choices have voiced reservations, including Albert Pujols, Evan Longoria and the Texas duo of Josh Hamilton and Vladimir Guerrero. This right away invites a provocative fantasy: Could the All-Stars be aligned for Ichiro Suzuki, a hitting maven who has always claimed to be able to hit long balls at will, but plays a contact-and-speed game by choice? Ichiro was included on the AL ballot for the fans' vote, finishing behind Joe Mauer, Carlos Pena and Miguel Cabrera. The leaders in the NL phase of the voting were Pujols, 2009 Derby winner Prince Fielder and Ryan Howard. On the record, Ichiro deflected being asked about his possible participation as "a stupid question." Cabrera is open to reenacting his Derby role; he finished third in the 2006 event at Pittsburgh's PNC Park. "Maybe," said the Detroit first baseman, slowed in recent days by lower-back stiffness caused by a kidney infection. "Let's see how I'm feeling next week. Yeah, I would do it, but let's see how my body feels." Others tactfully demurred, citing health concerns or motivation to open the second half of the season at their freshest. Pujols, the centerpiece of the event last year in his home park of Busch Stadium, will pass this time on repeating what had been an enjoyable experience. "I wouldn't mind doing it again. I just feel that, right now, this is not the time," the NL's reigning MVP said earlier in the week. "I don't have any problem doing it, but I want to concentrate on the second half." Conversely, Pujols' teammate, Matt Holliday, essentially said, "Bring it on." "Yeah, I would, if they asked," said Holliday, who took part in the 2007 Derby at San Francisco's AT&T Park. "I think it's a cool part of the festivities." Mauer recognized winning the fans' vote as an intriguing irony, given his three home runs this season. "That's the thing," said the Twins catcher. "I'm sure there's a lot more guys who are deserving of it this year. I guess we'll see what happens. I hope to do it again one day, but this year might not be that time." "No, I don't think I'm going to do it," said the Rays' Longoria, who explained that the day is a workout day for an important game, which ultimately has significance in the postseason. He added that he hoped to get a little rest during the break. "Besides, I'm not one of those big monster 500-foot home run hitters." Adrian Gonzalez said he was also asked to participate in the Home Run Derby for the second consecutive year, but he declined because he didn't want to risk further injury to his right shoulder that he aggravated while sliding back to third base earlier this week. Gonzalez enters Monday ranked eighth in the NL with 16 homers.
Andre Ethier removed himself from consideration earlier this weekend, reasoning that he is still too banged-up even a month after ending a stint on the disabled list.When the Dodgers' outfielder went on the DL in mid-May with a fractured little finger, he was the NL's Triple Crown leader with a .393 average accompanying 11 home runs and 38 RBIs. Seven weeks later, Ethier is batting .321 and has added merely two homers and 10 RBIs. The State Farm Home Run Derby, part of Gatorade All-Star Workout Day, will be broadcast live on ESPN, ESPN HD, ESPN Deportes and ESPN Radio in the U.S. beginning at 8 p.m. ET on July 12 at Angel Stadium. It also will feature pitch-by-pitch coverage on MLB.com, with Twitter integration for live expert and fan involvement. Minnesota first baseman Justin Morneau was asked about his interest in joining the Derby a few days ago, and has struggled with his answer since. "I know what's best for me and taking a day off is that. I still may switch, but right now, I'm leaning toward, 'No,'" Morneau said. "It's a hard decision anyway because you grew up watching the Derby on TV and having a derby in your backyard. It's something you always dream of doing, but for the second half and the benefit of the team, you have to look at both sides of it. I'm sure it'll be fun and it'd be great to go in it, but I want to be good in the second half and feel as good as I can." The reluctance of some of the more logical Derby candidates to step up to the plate in Angel Stadium is apt given Orange County's already unique role in All-Star sideshow history. Prior to the rocketing popularity of the Home Run Derby, pregame day festivities included a skills competition among select All-Stars with events such as catchers' throwing accuracy and speed racing around the bases. In the throwing-relays competition on the day prior to the 1989 All-Star Game in Anaheim Stadium, Cincinnati shortstop Barry Larkin tore the medial collateral ligament in his right elbow. Larkin, who at the time led the Majors with a .342 average, missed the rest of the season. Soon thereafter, the skills competition was off the bill. The poster boy for the possible impairing effects of stepping up in the Derby is the host team's Bobby Abreu, who was still with the Philadelphia Phillies in 2005 when he put on a show that brought the house down in Detroit's Comerica Park. But Abreu, who had 18 homers at the break, hit only six more the rest of that season and hasn't topped 20 since. Which could bring us to Mauer and his power drain in the aftermath of his emergence as a 2009 Derby contestant. Or it could all be a coincidence. Mauer was one of six of last summer's eight Derby swingers whose second-half production waned; only Fielder (22 homers before the break, 24 after) and Howard (22, 23) stepped it up. The 81st Major League Baseball All-Star Game will be televised nationally by FOX Sports, in Canada by Rogers Sportsnet and Sportsnet HD and Le Reseau de Sport, and around the world by Major League Baseball International, with pregame ceremonies beginning at 8 p.m. ET. ESPN Radio will provide exclusive national radio coverage. MLB Network, MLB.com and Sirius XM also will provide comprehensive All-Star Game coverage.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.