The first back-to-back winner since Griffey Jr. was holding back, missing the point.
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On Monday night Yoenis Cespedes became the first slugger since Ken Griffey Jr. to win back-to-back Home Run Derbies. The Oakland Athletics outfielder hit 28 dingers and walked away with the golden bats. That’s well and good, but despite his prolific long-ballsiness, Cespedes was doing it all wrong. The Derby isn’t supposed to be a show of measured competence; it’s supposed to be a fireworks display. The 28-year-old Cuban-native was swinging for the fence, not the backside of the bleachers. That’s why he won and why viewers lost.
Cespedes wasn’t circumspect about his strategy. He actually pulled teammate Josh Donaldson aside during the contest and warned him that he had to stop trying to put the ball out of the stadium. The Derby doesn’t, after all, reward distance and even a 28-year-old, 220-pound third baseman is going to get tired. Donaldson did get tired, but only after treating fans to a first round swing off upper decker.
Cespedes didn’t get tired because he was essentially hitting 390 to 420-foot flies. After nailing 27 of those, assuring his repeat victory, he finally did what he’d refused to do all night: He swung. The 452-foot rocket he hit into the third deck of Target Field was the biggest and most memorable blast of the event because power is what makes Yoenis Cespedes Yoenis Cespedes. Hitting short home runs against a batting practice pitcher is a Major League parlor trick. Hitting a five-ounce ball into Section 330 requires the sort of muscle the Home Run Derby was designed to display.
The first Derby, held in Minneapolis back in 1985, pitted five American League and National League hitters against each other. The players took an aggressive approach, essentially trying to one-up each other. Dave Parker, who played for Cincinnati and used to warm up in the on-deck circle with a sledgehammer, hit the most home runs (six) but Jim Rice, Eddie Murray, and the American League took it. No one was tired because no one saw that many pitches. The event was a display of power, pure and simple. That’s why it caught on. That’s why we’re still doing it.
In conclusion: Congratulations to Yoenis Cespedes on that final blast. Bring a little bit more of that aggression next year and we’ll actually root for a threepeat.
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