I'm not sure if you're 10 or 20 or finding it hard to believe you're almost 30.For all I know, I'm writing this to the ageless kid in me.
But in a way, kid, I'll feel sorry for you tonight. I fear you've been spoiled beyond repair. You've watched Home Run Derbies featuring Mark McGwire (in 1999) and Sammy Sosa (2000) at their larger-than-life strongest, and you'll inevitably find tonight's competition a toy-soldier bore.
Yes, I had the privilege of watching the solo slugfests by McGwire (at Fenway Park) and Sosa (Turner Field) from those press boxes. Well, "privilege" isn't the right word. Let's just say I was in the audience for both freak shows, and yes, I was in as much awe as anyone watching.
McGwire and Sosa, of course, had engaged in the Great Home Run Chase of 1998, with the Cardinals' Paul Bunyan outclubbing the Cubs' muscled-up version of Chico Escuela 70-66. Sosa sold it as two great friends going at it, which was a complete fabrication, but that's another story.
Then again, that was the homer-launching height of an entire era that was one big lie, wasn't it? The Steroid Era, it's now called in tougher-testing hindsight.
Even 10-year-olds know that.
You weren't exactly spoiled, kid. You were tricked. Now the Home Run Derby will never quite measure up to those juicefests.
Now, readers complain that we journalists should have reported at the time that so many sluggers were on steroids. Did I hear lots of wink-wink whispers? For years, kid. But did I have any proof? Did I witness a player injecting himself or find a teammate who would blow the whistle? No. I repeatedly tried and failed.
You cannot accuse a major-leaguer in print of using an illegal drug without double-source proof. Even now, we're still only at the strong suspicion stage. Even now, we have to be careful about what we write.
Then again, kid, I'll be the first to admit I was as caught up in the daily home-run derbies as any fan. Obviously, chicks weren't the only ones who dug the long ball. And I'm talking l-o-n-g. For me, how far was even more awe-igniting than how many.
That night in '99 at Fenway, McGwire put on the greatest display of tape-measure slugging I'll probably ever witness. In Paul Bunyan's first round, the Green Monster might as well have been just another Devil Rays shortstop. McGwire's 13 homers were just beginning their ascent when they cleared baseball's most famous left-field wall.
Officials estimated the last one at 480 feet. Yet it traveled beyond the limits of measuring devices -- over Landsdowne Street, far into the night. Honestly, kid, it looked like it might hit the CITGO Sign in Kenmore Square on one bounce.
Nomar Garciaparra, then with the Red Sox, told reporters: "I'd like to question some of those measurements. I don't think it's 480 feet to the Mass Pike."
McGwire, who exhausted himself in the first round, hit only three in the second and didn't make it to the finals. That's why the format is flawed -- and why so many All-Star sluggers began dodging the Monday night contest. The bar -- or "juice" bar -- was raised too high. Too much pressure to hit too many homers too far for too many rounds.