(Photo by Associated Press)
An interesting press release arrived yesterday from MLB announcing a new format for the Home Run Derby, which needs some perking up. Similar to the NHL, which named captains to choose their All-Star teams, much like we all did in the school yard, MLB named David Ortiz and Prince Fielder captains of their respective league’s teams for the Home Run Derby on July 11 at Chase Field in Phoenix.
Instead of every-man-for-himself competion, the two leagues will compete to see which hits more home runs. And the two captains, Ortiz and Fielder, will have the duty of recruiting three players each to round out their squads. The press release reads: “Fielder and Ortiz will each determine the other three participants on their teams and will personally extend the invitations. All players are eligible to participate in the State Farm Home Run Derby, not only those named to All-Star rosters. Each of the captains will select a charity of their choice which they will be hitting for during the Derby.”
Which brings us to Ichiro, who for the first time in his 11 seasons, I do not expect to make the All-Star team when it is announced Sunday. He has been voted as the starter nine times, and named as a reserve in 2006. In the last vote tally, Ichiro stood seventh in the outfield voting; only the top three make it as starters. He trailed Jose Bautista, Curtis Granderson, Josh Hamilton, Jacoby Ellsbury, Carl Crawford and Nelson Cruz. Ichiro has a history of making a huge leap in the final voting announcement, and you never know how many ballots from Japan are still out, but it would be a tough task to leapfrog four people. Ichiro’s numbers, not up to his usual standards, make it problematic that he would be named as a reserve via the player ballot or selected by the league (though AL manager Ron Washington is a big fan).
At any rate, Ichiro’s a longshot to make the AL squad. But maybe this is finally the year he would agree to do the Home Run Derby. It has long been bandied about by players, fans and media — virtually from the day he arrived in Peoria, Ariz., in 2001 and started putting on spectacular power displays in batting practice — that Ichiro would be a great addition to the Home Run Derby. Everyone from Lou Piniella to J.J. Putz has predicted he would win it. Last year, I wrote a blog post suggesting that Ichiro is the only one who could save the Home Run Derby.
I’ve always felt that Ichiro liked the mystery of people speculating how he’d do in the Derby. But he’s always resisted the temptation to put that to the test. Ichiro has turned down every overture from MLB — and I know they’ve asked.
The reason I think this could be the year is that Ichiro might have a harder turning down a personal request from Ortiz. The two have developed a friendly relationship from being All-Star teammates several times. It was Ortiz who in 2001 played a role in instigating the tradition of Ichiro addressing the American League All-Stars before each game. Justin Morneau described the scene in 2008 (referring to the previous season): “He (Ichiro) was sitting in the locker back there, and David Ortiz said, ‘Ichi’s got something to say.’ And then he pops out and everybody started dying. I had no idea it was coming. It was hilarious.”
I would bet that Ortiz knows of Ichiro’s BP prowess — everyone in baseball has done their share of gaping — and would love to see him take his hacks in Phoenix. Even if Ichiro doesn’t make the All-Star team.
If Big Papi himself makes the call, can Ichi say no?