One of sport’s greatest skills contest will be on display this evening, as baseball's betting lines will be on fire for Major League Baseball’s annual Home Run Derby at Petco Park. Eight of this season’s foremost deliverers of the long ball will pit themselves against each other for the top home run hitter of the summer.
However, what if Mark Trumbo, Corey Seager, Todd Frazier, Adam Duvall, Robinson Cano, Carlos Gonzalez, Wil Myers and Giancarlo Stanton (no wait, he can stay), were removed from tonight’s affairs and ANY hitter in the history of the game was taken back to his prime form and inserted into the affair instead? Instantly it would become one of the most hotly contested, fierce competitions in the history of the game.
The challenge would inevitably come down to how do you choose just eight all-time? From Jimmie Foxx to Hank Greenbery to Ted Williams to Willie Mays to Hank Aaron to Sadaharu Oh to Albert Pujols, there are a multitude of epic home run hitters in the history of the game. But for the sake of the debate, let’s sort out eight indisputably great home run hitters –from all cuts of the baseball cloth— from the past 100+ years, and pit them against each other.
Barry Bonds (762 MLB homers): The All-Time home run king (argue it if you want, it happened) put up a string of the most undeniable run of home run seasons of all-time, clearing 40 homers in eight different seasons, including his a record 73 in 2001.
Josh Gibson (962 Negro League homers – estimated) : It was said that even Babe Ruth could not match the legendary Negro Leaguer’s level of prolific rate or distance in hitting the long ball. Over his 17 years of Negro Leagues and barnstorming play, Gibson was said to have easily eclipsed the Major League standard for career home runs, both for a career and a single season. While the unfortunate times he played in never allowed him to be able to see an official count, there is no shortage of recollections that justify the claims to his prodigious feats. No fantasy Derby of historic hitters would be complete without Gibson being included.
Ken Griffey Jr (630 MLB homers): No one has won more Derbys than Junior has, winning three of the eight he participated in. For his career, he hit 630 long balls and will go into the Hall of Fame later this month has ownership of the highest voting percentage in history.
Josh Hamilton (200 MLB homers): It’s a fantasy homage to the Home Run Derby, so why not Josh? Hamilton gets the nod for being the author of the greatest performance in Derby history when he hit 28 home runs in the first round of the 2008 edition. It was an effort strong enough to curb even the best efforts of the best hitters of all-time.
Mickey Mantle (536 MLB homers): The most prodigious switch-hitter of all-time, Mantle’s legend has remained strong due in part to his legendary 565-foot homer that cleared the confines of old Yankee Stadium in 1953. The Derby of today would have the Mick’s type of clouts perfectly. He won multiple editions of the 1950’s ‘Home Run Derby’ television show, proving he was cut out for this type of work.
Mark McGwire (583 MLB homers): While we did not get to see Mantle put his singularly amazing show of strength on display in the modern Derby, it will be hard to forget McGwire making the Green Monster look like a waist-level fence, or peppering the upper deck of Jack Murphy Stadium when the All-Star Game was last in San Diego, where he won the 1992 contest. Big Mac is as formidable of a masher as the event has ever seen,
Babe Ruth (714 MLB homers): The most prodigious and legendary home run hitter of all-time. While Ruth never competed in an actual Home Run Derby, he did basically turn baseball into his own personal derby throughout the 1920’s and 30’s. He led his league in homers 12 times and infamously once out-homered the rest of the American League.
Giancarlo Stanton (200 MLB homers): For the sake of contemporary means, the most dangerous home run hitter currently in a uniform should be in the mix as well. Nobody hits longer, more eye-popping shots than the statuesque Stanton does. At only 26 years old, he has surpassed 200 career homers despite only playing 150 games in a season once in his career, as he is hitting a long ball every 14.6 at-bats thus far in his career.
The structure will see each of these sluggers placed against each other in a tiered, 8-man bracket that is based initially on intrigue, but then sorted out based on how it could theoretically play out. The park that the contest would take place in would be Petco Park, the sight of tonight’s Home Run Derby.
Without further delay, let us get into the greatest Home Run Derby there could have ever been…
#1) Babe Ruth vs. #8) Josh Hamilton
While injuries have kept Hamilton from staying at the level of play that saw him top 30 home runs three times from 2008-2012, the five-time All-Star had game-changing power at his peak, as he put on display in his historic 2008 derby.
However, the prospect of facing off against player of such prodigious power as Ruth is a daunting task for anybody. The Sultan swug a massive stick and used it more prolifically (and frequently) than anyone in history. He left the yard once every 11 at-bats for his career, a ratio that only McGwire bettered. And for anyone who wants to make the claims that he saw lesser miles per hour from the pitchers of his time, the batting practice tosses that he would face in the derby are still of a lower caliber than the pitchers of his time, so Ruth would be right in his zone in swinging for the fences.
Result: Hamilton gets hot, makes a show of it and hits them further than the Babe, but Ruth wins out in frequency putting on the type of show (and grandiose) that only he is capable of. Winner: Ruth
#4) Ken Griffey, Jr. vs. #5) Mickey Mantle
The conversation for greatest center fielder of all-time cannot happen without these two being mentioned, so it is fantastic to have them face off. Griffey is the master of the modern Home Run Derby, having competed in and won more than anybody in history (including back-to-back wins in 1998-99). His 70 career Derby homers came at a time with fewer rounds as well.
Meanwhile, the question for the Mick would not be potential, rather, it would likely be which side of the plate he would take his attack from. Mantle hit 372 of his career homers from the left side of the plate, so he would likely be a better opponent for Griffey matching him as a southpaw.
Result: This would be one of the most hotly contested battles, but the edge has to go to the Kid, who was one of the best ‘get in a groove’ hitters of all-time. A locked in Griffey takes down the Mick to move on to face Ruth in the semis. Winner: Griffey
#3) Mark McGwire vs. #6) Josh Gibson
This would hands down be the most exciting matchup of them all on the evening, with a collection of shots that when combined could probably cover the U.S. from San Diego back up towards Maine. The 210-pound powerhouse catcher for the Pittsburgh Crawfords, pitted against the 250 pound Oakland A’s and St. Louis Cardinals first baseman, who was built more like Bruno Sammartino than a Major League infielder.
It was once said that Gibson hit a ball on one day in Pittsburgh that landed during the next day’s game in Philadelphia. Likewise, a shot by McGwire in Busch Stadium once necessitated an oversized Band-Aid for the damage it caused a billboard in Busch Stadium.
Results: This would be a light show of epic proportions, packed in with enough Chris Berman “back, back, back, backs” to finally turn him blue in the face and tip him over during the live broadcast. Ultimately, I foresee Gibson prevailing on a tower shot that would require retrieval from somewhere in Chula Vista or Tijuana during tomorrow’s All-Star Game. Winner: Gibson
#2) Barry Bonds vs. #7) Giancarlo Stanton
It is only right to have a teacher versus pupil showdown close out the first round, with current Marlins superstar Stanton facing off against his current hitting coach in Bonds. Stanton is on pace for another 40 homer season with Bond overseeing his swing on a daily basis. However, if reports from this year’s spring training are accurate, even Stanton could not keep up with today’s 40+-year-old Bonds in a pure Home Run Derby.
However, for the purpose of this exercise, let us take Bonds back to his prime form and pit him against today’s Stanton. There has been no more dominant of a home run hitter than Bonds all-time, but in-game exploits have not always equaled Derby greatness historically. This has been the case for Bonds, who did win one Derby, but more often than not finished lower than expected.
Results: The door is open for the upset for Stanton here, who has only competed in one Derby, but put on a quite a show in the first round. Bonds was perhaps the most difficult hitter to pitch to in history and let few mistakes get by. But in the Derby, he did not perform the same against the grooved pitches over the middle. However, Stanton is one of the great batting practice performers in history, and this is right up his alley. I’m calling for the upset and taking Stanton on to next round. Winner: Stanton
#1) Babe Ruth vs #4) Ken Griffey Jr.
Just these two names alone facing off against each other is enough to keep people tuned in and on the edges of their seats. It was said once that it would be Griffey that would conquer Ruth’s then career home run record, and despite injuries that slowed him from making a more legit push, he still finished his career within 100 of the Babe all the same.
Griffey’s stroke was made for the Derby; smooth, an easy rhythm and he was prone to be locked in once he got a few swings in. Ruth, conversely, was a full effort swinger. He was going for the fences every time he took a cut and it is hard to imagine that he ever got cheated at the plate. It would be great showdown between two great sluggers with a pair of the most iconic images at the plate of all-time.
Result: The Derby would seem not to lend itself to be favorable for the max effort Ruth after time. While there would be little doubt that he would not be an easy out, it is also easy to see him get mired in a slump or fatigue out. It is also easy to imagine him taking a break mid at-bat, and having a beverage or two and chatting up the gathered players along the dugouts. Griffey, on the other hand, was The Natural. He could heat up a couple of times throughout the contest and find a way to go over when paired against the greatest home run icon of all-time in Ruth. The Swingman wins a tight contest to move on to the finals. Winner: Griffey.
#6) Josh Gibson vs. #7) Giancarlo Stanton
If any pairing could potentially equal the showdown between Gibson and McGwire in round one, it would be Stanton and Gibson a round later. Both make tape measure shots their routine way of clearing the fence and could challenge the inventory in Petco Park for baseballs in the Derby.
This could be a chase scenario, where Stanton sets up a big number early and then Gibson has to follow up from what seems like daunting odds. However, no distance nor number is too much for the Negro League’s greatest slugger. Gibson pulls out a string of nearly 10-consecutive shots to quickly narrow the gap, before seeing a few die in the deep gaps of Petco’s left centerfield. However, after a late rally, Gibson finally pulls ahead of Stanton to launch himself into the Finals and a date with immortality. Winner: Gibson
#4) Ken Griffey Jr vs. #6) Josh Gibson
The finals will pit two opposite types of hitters against each other, in the sweet-swinging modern day master of the Derby against a hitter in Gibson whose exploits better resemble those of Thor than of a mere cleanup hitter.
Gibson goes first and proves he still has plenty in the tank, continuing to make the spacious confines of contest looks relatively small. He sets a big pace early on, partially out of natural acumen, but also because he has seen how Griffey has sliced through both Mantle and Ruth ahead of him. Gibson puts up a memorable performance; worthy of even Josh Hamilton’s approval. But will it stand?
Griffey, clad in only the best ’98 Swingman Nikes and appropriately cocked Mariners fitted, steps up to the plate with a swagger that is his —and his alone— in the history of the game. Griffey sets into his work immediately, registering a few shots on his first couple of swings. He smartly works Derby veteran savvy by taking a few pitches, before setting back into another groove and chasing down the sizeable task that Gibson left ahead of him.
With his outs getting fewer, but his total still rising, Griffey hits the decisive shot with only two outs remaining to save him, declaring himself the King of the All-Time Home Run Derby and affirming the fact of why the owner of the sweetest swing of all-time is headed to the Hall of Fame later this month with unparalleled honors.
Winner: Ken Griffey Jr.
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