Monday, June 27, 2011
Ultimate HR Derby: I'll take Griffey
By David Schoenfield
The most impressive batting practices I used to watch were those of the Oakland A's in the late 1980s. Back in those days, the Seattle Mariners weren't drawing many fans, but when the "Bash Brothers" came to town, the left-field bleachers would be packed during BP, kids and adults alike fighting for souvenirs. Let's just say Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco weren't exactly working on their opposite-field hitting in those days, so there were plenty of baseballs to be had.
A decade later, I was on the field at Tiger Stadium, watching McGwire take BP during the height of his powers. Honestly, I didn't care what he was using. As he launched home run after home run over the roof in left field, I couldn't believe a human being could hit a baseball that far.
Anyway, Big Mac is in our Ultimate Home Run Derby bracket. Disappointingly, Canseco failed to make the final cut, as did Negro Leagues star Josh Gibson, whom many have said hit 'em longer than The Babe.
So who would win such a fictional derby? Well, let's start by saying who won't win:
Babe Ruth: He'd take a break to wipe off with his Gatorade towel and get a Gatorade drink, and instead ask for a beer and a hot dog, and he'd be done.
Cecil Fielder, Prince Fielder, Boog Powell: Do they have the stamina to outlast this field?
Reggie Jackson: He'd try to show off and jack every pitch 500 feet and pop too many up.
Hank Aaron, Ted Williams, Rogers Hornsby, Frank Thomas, Joe DiMaggio, Albert Pujols: These guys were/are more line-drive hitters with the power to hit home runs, but I'm not sure that would translate over multiple rounds.
Bo Jackson, Rob Deer, Dave Kingman: Deer hit one of the longest home runs I've ever seen, about three-quarters of the way up the left-field foul pole in the Kingdome. I think it would have landed in Puget Sound if it hadn't hit the pole. That said, these guys probably would swing and miss pitches even in BP.
Jose Bautista: Unless the contest is being held in Toronto.
Manny Ramirez: Ability to focus for multiple rounds would be an issue.
Roger Maris, Frank Robinson, Hank Greenberg, Harmon Killebrew: Greenberg had a huge home/road home run split in his career: 205 at home, 126 on the road. As for the others, I guess I'm just biased against players from the '60s.
Alex Rodriguez: Come on, you know he'd start pressing.
Ryan Howard: What if the BP pitcher threw left-handed?
Barry Bonds, Lou Gehrig: Bonds never did well in the derbies in which he participated. Gehrig would conserve his energy for a real game.
My bracket finals:
Mike Schmidt versus Josh Hamilton: If the contest is held during the day, Hamilton has no chance.
Mickey Mantle versus Ken Griffey Jr.: Mantle has the switch-hitting advantage, so he could swing from whichever side gave him the park advantage and he could hit the ball a country mile, as they say. But Griffey was so smooth and effortless, the perfect swing for a home run derby. And he won three of these things. Edge: Junior.
Sammy Sosa versus Mark McGwire: Big Mac moves on in a titanic battle.
Willie Mays versus Jimmie Foxx: Mays had surprising power for his size, but they called Foxx "The Beast." I'll take somebody with that nickname.
Schmidt versus Griffey: Griffey wins. Let's just hope Schmidt doesn't cry after losing.
McGwire versus Foxx: I was standing on Lansdowne Street behind the Green Monster at the 1999 All-Star Game when McGwire hit one over the street, off the top floor of the parking garage and onto the Massachusetts turnpike. My god, was that hit far. He was juiced. The balls might have been juiced. I'll still take Big Mac.
Griffey versus McGwire: Griffey, baby! In his prime, Junior's pretty swing was a thing of perfection.