The day after Aaron Judge won the Home Run Derby in July, the world’s best hitter stood near the batting cage and explained why he had found himself awed by Judge’s power. “People don’t understand how hard it is to do what he did,” Joey Votto said, motioning toward that distant area in right-center field where so many of Judge’s home runs had landed.
Judge was the perfect Home Run Derby champion: He’s the biggest player in baseball history, he wrecked the competition, and he had fun, with grace — he would not start the trophy ceremony until Danilo Valiente, his batting practice pitcher, was located and placed by his side to share credit. So yes, it’s disappointing that we won’t see the Judge fireworks again, assuming he doesn’t change his mind (and I’d pin the odds of that somewhere below the chances of the Marlins winning the World Series this year).
But it’s his prerogative to do what he wants, maybe to protect his surgically repaired shoulder, and the show must go on. Here is the Judge-less Home Run Derby field we’d love to see this July:
The All-Star Game is in Washington during the final season before Harper reaches free agency, and he has indicated he will be ready to go, if asked (and if healthy).
Spoiler alert: He will be asked.
Extroverts draw energy from those around them, and introverts expend energy when around others. In a smaller parallel world, the same can be said for Home Run Derby participants: Some find it to be a grind, and some really seem to love it – and Stanton seems to be a Derby extrovert. He has seemed to love it in the past, and a final between Stanton and Harper might provide the best possible showdown.
What the Rangers’ first baseman hits can’t be classified as merely home runs. They are epic; they are moonshots. He hits them higher –and usually farther – than anybody else and at 6-foot-5, 230 pounds, Gallo would be a legit threat to win the Derby.
The Yankees’ catcher took down Stanton last year and is fully capable of winning this event. After a few months of living in the shadow of Judge and Stanton, maybe he’d like another shot at center stage. (And if he gets the trophy, maybe he could help coax Judge out of Derby retirement in some future year for a showdown).
The best player on the planet already has 201 career homers, at age 26, and if he ever wanted to participate, you know Major League Baseball would love to have him. And he should be asked.
But presumably, he’ll say no. Which leads us to…
Trout’s fellow New Jersey native put on arguably the greatest Derby show ever in Cincinnati in the first year the Derby went to an improvised timed format, and the infectious enthusiasm of he and his pitcher – his brother Charlie – helped breathe more life into the event. Frazier, the ultimate extrovert, would only make this more fun.
Altuve would be the mouse among elephants, but he’s got legitimate pop and hit 24 homers each of the last two seasons – but he’d probably say no. And Springer has said no in the past. And Correa may well say no. But it’s never a bad thing to try to get a World Series champion into the mix.
This is a big platform season for Machado, who will hit the free-agent market with Harper next fall and will get an enormous deal. As one of the most-discussed players in baseball this summer, he’d be a good get for MLB for this event.
When he took his first rounds of batting practice in Arizona this year, his teammates texted each other about Ohtani’s big power – and no one can dispute his star power. Ohtani’s participation would pump-up worldwide ratings, and hopefully someone asks him. But as teams prepared to bid on him, they learned that he is mostly a private person and all about baseball, so it seems a stretch that he would do this.
The first time I ever saw the 5-foot-11, 175-pound Ichiro take batting practice, future Hall of Famer Pat Gillick – then the general manager of the Mariners – walked over and warned me: “Pay attention to his last round of batting practice – he’s got a lot of power.” Sure enough, Ichiro slammed ball after ball after ball into the right field stands, making perfect contact with his precise eye-hand coordination. Ichiro wouldn’t hit them nearly as far as Stanton or Gallo or Harper, but he is so disciplined and so specific that he might find a way to put up a fight. And that would be a lot of fun to watch, and the 44-year-old would be the crowd favorite, behind Harper.
When we first mentioned Bumgarner’s desire to be in the Derby a couple of years ago, another player asked me derisively, “Do you really think he would have a chance against the greatest home run hitters in the world?” The player argued vehemently that there are position players more deserving that than the Giants pitcher.
Which sort of misses the point. The Home Run Derby, at its best, is supposed to be a spectacle; it’s supposed to be fun; it’s supposed to be interesting. It’s not an SAT test of hitting acumen.
Last year, the 6-foot-5, 250-pound Bumgarner had home runs with an exit velocity of over 115 mph, higher than most hitters. His participation would be very interesting, and he would try to launch balls to the distant Capitol.
But Aaron Judge, always know that if you change your mind, the baseball world would love to have you back in the Derby.