Five thoughts following Monday's night Home Run Derby:
Tigers slugger Prince Fielder started slowly (five first-round homers) but finished emphatically with a record-tying 12-homer final round to beat the Blue Jays' Jose Bautista and join Ken Griffey Jr. as the only players with two Home Run Derby titles. Fielder's other victory occurred three years ago across the Show-Me state in St. Louis.
While joining Fielder at the press conference podium afterward, his son Jadyn succinctly explained how his father asserted himself as the derby champ: "Because he's the best player ever."
At the very least, Fielder is perfect for the Home Run Derby. He has a power pedigree -- having hit as many as 50 home runs in a season and having averaged 40 the past five seasons -- and is much more than a batting-practice hero. His homers have tremendous length, traveling as far as an event-best 476 feet and averaging 432 feet. He clearly enjoys the event, judging his ubiquitous smile and post-derby pledge to compete again if invited. And the inclusion of his children, Jadyn and Haven, in the event is heartwarming.
Bautista, meanwhile, started strong with a leading 11 home runs in the first round, but his seven in the final round fell well short of Fielder's 12 and his evening total of 20 was eight fewer than Fielder's 28. Bautista, who has the most regular-season home runs of any major league player over the past three seasons, took his defeat with a good sense of humor.
"It's like Ricky Bobby said," Bautista, channeling the move
Longest home run: 476 feet by Fielder in the second round
Best round: 12 by Fielder in the final
Best streak: Six straight homers by Bautista in the first round
Most splashes into the right field fountain: Eight by Fielder
Best read of a scouting report: When Bautista, a notorious pull-hitter, was batting, the children shagging flies kept to a tight cluster down the leftfield line.
Best reason to hold the Derby: State Farm gave $615,000 to charity.
The boos poured down more forcefully on Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano than a Fielder home run splashing into the fountain in right field. Whenever Cano's name was announced over the public-address speakers or his likeness appeared on the videoboard or his swing failed to net a home run, every time the event was accompanied by vociferous boos. An airplane circled Kauffman Stadium in the afternoon with a trailing banner message that read "Congrats Billy! You blew it Cano. -- 810 WHB," apparently the work of a local radio station.
Why the vitriol? In early June ESPN asked Cano, the AL captain for the Derby, whether he'd make a point of picking a Royal, and he replied, "That's got to be the right thing. You've got to pick one of the Royals players. Because I mean that's their hometown and that's where the All-Star Game is going to be so the fans want to see their players there."
Maybe Cano thought either Eric Hosmer or Mike Moustakas was going to make the All-Star team, because when his only option was Billy Butler -- he of the 16 home runs this year but never more than 21 in a previous season -- the Yankees second baseman instead selected Trumbo, though Cano said on Monday that he had to finalize his Derby roster before the All-Star roster was announced.
The scene was familiar, though an exaggerated version, of last year when Fielder chose his then-Brewers teammate Rickie Weeks for the Derby instead of Justin Upton, to which the Arizona home crowd responded with its own cascade of boos.
Cano, the defending champion, did not hold up well, failing to hit a single home run. He had arrived in town after 4 a.m., following the late Sunday night baseball game in Boston, but the crowd's roar certainly didn't help his chances.
Immediately after his round, Cano tweeted, "I can't believe I have so many fans in KC lol smh can't win them all *kanye shrug*." His Yankees teammate Curtis Granderson followed up with his own tweet: "that was the most interesting reaction to a home [run] derby I've ever seen, but the fans were excited which is all that counts :-) #HRDerby."
Granderson's sentiment was just about spot-on: the fans' passion was commendable but the overbearing reaction went a bit far.
Longballs are encouraged but long derbies are not. Monday's Derby clocked in around 2:50 -- that approximates the length of an actual game, which feels too long for an All-Star showcase such as the Derby.
With eight participants, four semifinalists and two finalists making for three rounds of competition, there are an awful lot of swings -- and, increasingly, taking pitches in search of the perfect ball -- that can tire the hitters' arms and weaken the fans' attention spans.
The first round is the best, even if it is the longest. Each player is allowed to hit for as long as he can until he makes 10 outs. Thus, everyone gets a showcase and ample time to prove himself. Energy is high early on, with the hopes and expectations of seeing how each slugger will perform.
But that energy dissipates considerably after the first round. If not for Fielder's brilliant 12-homer barrage in the last round, the ending nearly felt anticlimactic.
The solution could be eliminating the semifinal round altogether. Maybe that's too drastic but it's possible to go from the eight-man opener to a four-person final round, naming the hitter with the highest cumulative total the winner.
Or if interest in the drama of a one-on-one finale is too compelling, one could simply reduce the allotted outs in the semis and finals from 10-to-5. Bottoms of the ninth are so engrossing because they represent do-or-die moments, and such a contraction of the Derby would create a heightened interest in each swing, while keeping the sequencing of the Derby intact.
One of the most enduring images of every All-Star weekend is the prevalence of the players' young children in constant accompaniment of their fathers, a sweet sight especially visible during the Derby.
The sons of Fielder and Yankees starter CC Sabathia took hacks in the batting cage this afternoon. Ortiz's son is an annual fixture on the field during the Derby. Giants pitcher Matt Cain did a television interview with his daughter on his lap. And, according to Twitter, Rays pitcher David Price recruited his nephew to approach Bautista and tell him, "Stop hitting home runs off my uncle!"