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Grading Aaron Judge and the rest of the 2017 Home Run Derby participants

Just how watchable is this Home Run Derby going to be? That depends on how much you want to watch young stars instead of veterans.

T-Mobile Home Run Derby Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

The four best Home Run Derby candidates are participating in the Midsummer Novelty, and that’s all that matters. I could spend a paragraph or two complaining that Justin Bour or Mike Moustakas might take some of the attention away from our sweet brobdingnagian dinger angel Aaron Judge, except that’s just petty. The Home Run Derby will feature the four contestants I wanted, and four others to round out the numbers.

Here’s the full list of Home Run Derby participants, in order of how excited I am to watch them:

  1. Aaron Judge
  2. Giancarlo Stanton
  3. Cody Bellinger
  4. Miguel Sano
  5. Gary Sanchez
  6. Charlie Blackmon
  7. Mike Moustakas
  8. Justin Bour

This is a fine list of youth and ... well, youth, mostly. The eight players have combined for 631 career homers, which is about 79 career homers per participant, and the bulk of them belong to Stanton. Just two of the participants have more than 100 career homers — Stanton and Moustakas. It’s not unusual to have several participants who have never hit 40 homers in a season before; it is unusual to have several participants who haven’t hit 40 homers in their career.

I’m wary of extrapolating a trend out of a single season, but, well, these manufactured opinions aren’t going to assemble themselves. It feels like the Home Run Derby field is going to be winnowed down further and further to three categories: Young sluggers who don’t know any better, veterans who will try anything once, and Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton, under threat of suspension from the league if they decline

It’s not a bad set of criteria. It’s led to that group of participants, which is a fine, compelling bunch that I’m eager to watch.

How does it compare to some of the other fields throughout Home Run Derby history, though? I’ll share my three favorite fields and show you what I’m getting at:


  • Jim Rice
  • Eddie Murray
  • Carlton Fisk
  • Tom Brunansky
  • Cal Ripken, Jr.
  • Dave Parker
  • Dale Murphy
  • Steve Garvey
  • Ryne Sandberg
  • Jack Clark

That’s five Hall of Famers and four players with a halfway reasonable argument to get in. And it’s not like Brunansky was a slouch, either. He was a large dinger boy back in his day, and it was fun to watch him swat at batting-practice pitches.


  • Mark McGwire
  • Ken Griffey, Jr.
  • Jose Canseco
  • Cecil Fielder
  • Ryne Sandberg
  • Matt Williams
  • Bobby Bonilla
  • Darryl Strawberry

What I love the most about this list is how it bridges the gap between the two decades. McGwire was still a young kid with a world of dongs ahead of him. Griffey was like Judge and Bellinger mixed into one, with a backwards hat that pissed off all the right people. Fielder was the celestial home run object of his time, the requisite large force of nature that every Derby should have. The last four were stars in the Baseball Card Era, which meant that every kid knew who they were and would follow along with rapt interest.


  • Barry Bonds
  • Sammy Sosa
  • Jim Thome
  • David Ortiz
  • Rafael Palmeiro
  • Lance Berkman
  • Miguel Tejada
  • Hank Blalock

Yes, the last name stands out, but this is still one of the two times that five players who would finish in the 500 home run club competed in the same Home Run Derby (1998 was the other one). Three of them are in the 600 home run club. And one of them, well, he’s kind of alone at the top.

Both Berkman and Tejada finished with more than 300 career homers, too, which probably isn’t a milestone that at least half of this year’s field will reach. This was a tremendous collection, and it highlights what’s missing with this year’s Derby:

Hank Blalock

I, what, no, stop that. This year’s Derby is missing verifiable home run legends. Stanton will become one, health willing. So will some of the other youngsters, health willing. But this isn’t a group that’s at 300, 400, or 500 homers already and ready to challenge history. The participants of this year’s Derby are still very much in the first chapter of their careers.

Here’s the twist, though: Most of those Home Run Derbies were boring as hell. That 1990 Home Run Derby list, with five Hall of Famers and the stars of yesteryear? There were five home runs that year. Total. In the whollllllle Home Run Derby. Sandberg had three, McGwire had one, and Williams had one, and that was it. People paid cash money to sit around and watch the dullest batting practice in recorded history.

There were no rounds, either, no tournament format. Each batter got two chances to hit as many home runs before making five “outs.” That means there were 45 swings in the entire Derby, with five of them leaving the ballpark. Giancarlo Stanton hit 61 home runs in last year’s Derby.

So while there’s a little something missing from this year’s field, it’s still going to be a much, much better Derby than the ones from the past that were besotted with Hall of Famers and members of the 500-homer club. And if this is the trend, I’m all for it. Give me the youngsters who are too young and dumb to know they should be tired. Give me stamina and adrenaline.

Give me large homer fellas with their comically disfigured home runs and general hatred of baseballs.

This field has all that, and the format will make sure they’ll get to show off a lot more than they used to. I’m in. There might not be a Hall of Famer in the bunch when it’s all said and done, but they’re some of the brightest home run monsters in today’s game.

Grade: A