Aaron Judge is the flavor of the month, the rookie who looks like two Mark McGwires in a trenchcoat trying to sneak into an R-rated movie, and I can respect why everyone is excited. He’s new, he’s fresh, and he looks like someone was screwing with the sliders in the create-a-player setting.
Giancarlo Stanton seems like the Aaron Judge from Christmas past, the T-800 to Judge’s T-1000. That almost rings true, except Judge is just two years younger. Stanton is also an ogre, also eager to flay and skin baseballs just enough that they will go and tell the other baseballs what happened. Stanton has done what Judge is doing, but for much longer.
If there is justice in the universe, Stanton and Judge will meet in the Home Run Derby final, and they’ll be responsible for folktales that are told after the collapse of civilization. Both of them consume whole goats as villagers throw stones at them, and it’s only fair if we get to watch them in the Home Run Derby, sending ball after ball into the spinning-marlin wormhole while kids run into each other below. Let this be one of your baseball wishes for the 2017 season.
It probably won’t happen. But it should.
But it probably won’t.
It probably won’t happen because baseball doesn’t quite work like that. Think of the Home Run Derby like the bracket of World Series hopefuls before the postseason starts. You know what your dream matchup is. You know the World Series you want. Your job is usually to set those expectations on fire.
Think about 2013. It could have been A’s/Pirates! That would have been a small-market delight, but it also could have been Dodgers/Tigers, a classic matchup of two original teams without a lot of championship success in the last 30 years. Heck, even Rays/Braves would have been interesting, just because of the freshness.
Instead, here, have some Cardinals and Red Sox. It’s good for you. Open your mouth and eat your Cardinals and Red Sox. Don’t make me get your father.
Think about 2014. We could have had the Pirates/Royals. If you’re into national matchups, the Nationals/Orioles or Dodgers/Angels would have been a pip! And if you had to see the stupid Giants again, at least there would be a chance that they would rehash the Earthquake Series.
Instead, you saw the stupid Giants again, and they were matched up with a perennial underdog, and they won again.
Think about 2015. I polled readers about which World Series matchup was the best possible, and here’s what you answered:
Three of them, most of us agreed, would have been pretty cool. And yet.
This is how it will almost certainly be for the 2017 Home Run Derby. You want Judge and Stanton. The fans at the ballpark want it. The people watching on TV want it. The players want it. Their agents want it. Rob Manfred would sacrifice a chicken to get it. And when you look up, it’s going to be Mike Moustakas and Charlie Blackmon, and there’s not a damned thing you’ll be able to do about it.
They’re fine players, and they’ll still hit the ball really far, and all. It’s just not Stanton and Judge.
We can take that bit about the possible World Series matchups back for years and years, and the story is generally the same. The best potential pairing rarely happens, mostly because of the tyranny of permutations.
IT HAPPENED. This was the Judge and Stanton of World Series matchups, and it happened. Although I guess for the analogy to hold completely true, you would sort of have to get eternally annoyed with the winner of this particular Home Run Derby, which seems impossible.
Every so often, the pachinko ball of this sport clicks off the right bumper, the right spinner, and it careens exactly where you want it to go.
I don’t want to make this too dramatic. This isn’t some sort of allegory, a clash of the metaphors where the beefy big boy sees the beefier big boy trying to outbeef his way to a beefy-big-boy fiefdom of beef that can only be solved with a big boy beef-off. This doesn’t have to be old vs. new.
No, these are just two of the best home run hitters who have ever lived, aesthetically speaking. That’s all. There don’t need to be layers with this. Stanton hits baseballs hard.
Here's Giancarlo Stanton taking aim at the Coke bottle during BP: pic.twitter.com/VTfx3YfGxw— Alex Pavlovic (@PavlovicNBCS) July 9, 2017
It’s hard to explain just what those home runs mean to someone intimately familiar with the park. Home runs don’t go there. They absolutely don’t. Stanton was doing it several times in the same batting practice session. He is the product of an experiment by the architect of your simulation.
Judge hits baseballs hard.
And that’s what the Home Run Derby is. It’s an event specifically crafted to avoid layers. There are no layers. There are no hidden meanings. There are just grown men hitting baseballs as hard as they possibly can, and here we have two players who are the best in history at hitting baseballs as hard as they possibly can. They’re home runs that make teammates do things like this:
They’re home runs that make peers do things like this:
We are all Charlie Blackmon. And we’ve earned this.
The final will probably be Miguel Sano/Justin Bour (cool in several respects) or Cody Bellinger/Gary Sanchez (really, just a delightful pairing), and that’s fine. But if you don’t want to watch the spectacle of two planets crashing into each other, you’re lying to yourself. Judge and Stanton is the best possible Home Run Derby one-on-one since the silly exhibition was created.
The only thing that makes me confident that it might happen is that the rules allow the players with the most home runs to keep going. With any luck, we’ll get what we’re asking for. Because those guys are pretty good at doing exactly that.