If Bryce Harper is an All-Star, he needs to be in HR Derby
Before we dial up the fauxtrage all the way up to 11, let’s be clear about where things stand: Bryce Harper may -- or may not -- participate in this year’s Home Run Derby, and some folks are understandably wondering what’s up with that. With 18 homers on the season, he’s tied with Seattle’s Nelson Cruz for the major league lead, having hit 13 in May. If anybody should be in the Home Run Derby, it’s Bryce Harper. If he’s absent, seriously, why have it?
Harper finished second in the 2013 Home Run Derby to Yoenis Cespedes. Now, at 22 years old, he’s breaking out as one of the best players in baseball because he has tapped into the power people projected from him going back to high school. He is the game’s hottest ticket, the guy you want to see, the guy the game itself needs on the field if you want to validate the Home Run Derby as a front page “feat of strength” contest. What’s the point of having the event if the National League’s home run leader bugs out?
Harper’s stated reason for adding any doubt over his participation is his dad’s health. Harper has said his dad’s work ethic has been a major motivator for him in the past, and nobody should forget that Harper’s dad was the man serving up meatballs to his son in the 2013 Derby. And that automatically engenders sympathy: Guy loves his dad, no film at 11 and we’re done here, right?
Wrong. This isn’t a scary situation in which Ron Harper is seriously ill -- he’s recovering from rotator cuff surgery. So the “problem,” as far as this goes, is that he won’t be available to put cookies on a plate for Bryce in July.
Keep in mind, Harper didn’t say he was opting out of the All-Star Game in Cincinnati, just that he hasn’t made up his mind about participating in the Home Run Derby. Apparently because we don’t know yet who’s available to play-act Craig Ehlo to Harper’s Michael Jordan in a bit of July fun, the game’s great staged showcase for slugging prowess.
If Harper was so concerned for his dad that he was going to skip all the All-Star activities, that would be one thing. But if Harper is in Cincinnati as an All-Star accepting his due from fans at the ballot box, there really isn’t much excuse for his opting out of the Home Run Derby. That’s a scenario that would leave fans feeling cheated of something that's supposed to be fun.
Ultimately, the outcome of the event doesn't matter, but if anyone is going to give us something that might approach Josh Hamilton's epic 2008 Derby performance in Yankee Stadium, it's Harper. And if anybody is going to give us a slugger vs. slugger duel to compare to McGwire vs. Bonds in 1996, it's Cruz vs. Harper. We want to see that, and we should.
So, before this becomes any more controversial than it already is, here’s hoping a quiet phone call from Commissioner Manfred and a quick casting call for somebody capable of conjuring up meatballs faster than the Swedish Chef fixes this, and fixes it before the full weight of the opinionated jabberocracy ramps up to full dudgeon to see who can be the angriest sportswriter over this very solvable “problem.”
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