Be honest. If this were anyone else, say Jermaine Dye or Chase Utley, no one would be talking about this. No one would care. And why would they? The Home Run Derby is a silly diversion, a sideshow to a sideshow. Really, does anyone truly fret about this exhibition, have his or her heart set on whoever wins it? Does anyone even remember who won last year?* No. But since it’s Alex Rodriguez, suddenly missing the Home Run Derby is akin to spray-painting over the Sistine Chapel. And everyone has to have their opinion.
Here’s an example of the hyperbole. This is from FanIQ, a web site dedicated to this kind of stuff.
Just like Barry Bonds a year ago, Alex Rodriguez has chosen the "messes with my swing" excuse to avoid the humiliation of potentially not winning [the Home Run Derby]. Besides, I thought the only thing that messed with A-Rod's swing was postseason pitchers and Yankee fans breathing down his neck.
A-Rod belongs in the Derby for many reasons. For starters, he's the games best and most popular player. He's capable of putting on a show that would be fitting for this final sendoff to Yankee Stadium, arguably the game's most historic landmark.
…how about sending a few shots into Monument Park, a simple ode to those who made this game a national pastime.
Hey, it's not just chicks that dig the long ball. Come on, A-Rod, swing your bat to the fences instead of at Madonna.
Another one, this time from FanNation.com
It is easy to understand players protecting themselves, but this is a bit much. As an MLB player, he is obligated by the league to participate in events such as these, especially during All-Star Week. The players owe it to their fans to give them entertainment.
It goes on. Heck, even Jayson Stark of ESPN, normally one of the more levelheaded sports reporters out there, chimed in saying he “didn’t like Alex Rodriguez's reasoning for wanting to sit out the All-Star Game's Home Run Derby.”
One question Mr. Stark—and I ask with all due respect—why should Mr. Rodriguez care what you like or don’t?
Alex Rodriguez is getting paid—quite well, as we all know—to play for the New York Yankees, as well as he can. That is his priority. His only one. And anything that can affect his ability to do so, should be avoided. And frankly, the Home Run Derby has affected players in the past. I mean, all Alex Rodriguez has to do is look over to right field to see a guy damaged by the Home Run Derby. Bobby Abreu said the Home Run Derby “was a lot like golfing” and that “it took a long time to get his swing back.” In point of fact, it’s never really come back. In the four seasons preceding Abreu’s victory at the 2005 Home Run Derby, he averaged a little over 25 home runs a season, and had 6 straight seasons of 20 or more (in 2005, he had 20 by the All-Star game). After winning the Home Run Derby, Abreu hit just 6 more that season. He hasn’t reached 20 home runs a season since.
Or if Rodriguez wanted more proof, he could just look across town to David Wright who had Home Run Derby hangover in 2006: 20 HRs before the break, 6 after.
You don’t even have to make it to the second round to be affected. Look at Hank Blalock’s splits the one year he participated (2004). Before the Home Run Derby, Blalock was batting .303 with 23 home runs and a .572 slugging percentage. After the Derby, Blalock batted .240 with 9 home runs and a .406 slugging percentage.
Rodriguez has done it 3 times before; at Coors Field in 1998, at Safeco Field in 2001, and at Miller Park in 2002. He has done his fair share to answer the people who say he “owes it to the fans” Nor is he the only ballplayer to opt out of it; David Ortiz, Barry Bonds, and Ken Griffey Jr. all declined just last year. Why? Because they felt it has an adverse effect on their swing. Where were the people then claiming Ken Griffey owed it to the fans? That Ortiz was a coward and had “forgotten the fans.”
And to those who say that since it’s being held at Yankee Stadium, he should participate. Oh please. The only “fitting sendoff” any Yankee fan would want for Yankee Stadium is a World Series Championship. And that’s what Alex Rodriguez is focusing on.
He doesn’t owe anybody anything else.
* It was Vladimir Guerrero. I looked it up.