Not only can swinging for the seats on every pitch mess up a grooved power stroke. But a favored slugger can feel like he played a tripleheader when it's over.
God only knows how much megadosing was done before some of those Derbies. Now, who can live up to those feats?
That night at Fenway, I thought we were seeing the future. Now I know we were seeing the past.
The following year in Atlanta, Sosa put on the greatest sustained exhibition of slugging I've witnessed. It was like watching aerobic power-lifting -- how many times can you bench press 400 pounds in two hours? Boom, boom, boom: A sweat-soaked Sosa pounded shots out of Turner, turning ESPN's Chris Berman hoarse. Boomer couldn't even get the first "back " out of his mouth before these rockets hit high in the seats.
Six in the first round, 11 in the second, nine in the finals to Ken Griffey Jr.'s two. Two were measured at 508 feet. But to my eye, each traveled farther than the announced 524-footer Sosa hit two summers later at Milwaukee's Miller Park.
Naturally, or unnaturally, Jason Giambi won the 2002 Derby. Later, of course, the leaked BALCO grand jury testimony reported by the San Francisco Chronicle would make Giambi the shrinking poster boy for suspected steroid abuse.
But at least the Steroid Derbies didn't affect the standings or the sacred home-run records. That was the one good thing you can say about them. And in the Home Run Derby, no one really cared if the juicers had an advantage over the drug-frees. It was almost like watching those anything-goes bodybuilder contests and wondering what happens to the grotesquely muscled winners. Do they put them in the zoo?
You saw such inhuman Derby displays that, after a while, you thought you were watching video games. Cartoon-huge sluggers were launching balls to the moon.You kids today would call it sick, as in awesome. I would now call it sick as in warped. These guys took us places we shouldn't have gone. They hit baseballs to the dark side of chemical cheating.
In truth, we were watching a lot of guys with rare hand-eye coordination and athletic leverage who willingly broke rules and laws by using anabolic rocket fuel. They risked psychological addiction and possible organ destruction. They tempted a lot of kids like you to play with the devil's fire by injecting unsupervised overdoses of the black-market crap loosely called steroids. But these grown (or overgrown) men took these risks because home runs sell. Tonight, those blasts will seem like retro rockets.
Oh, Andruw Jones and his 27 first-half homers are mildly intriguing. David Ortiz at least raises one of your eyebrows -- he's not muscled up, he was just born big. But Carlos Lee? Mark Teixeira? No Albert Pujols or Miguel Tejada?
Pujols told ESPN's Joe Morgan he was looking forward to competing -- until, apparently, he found out Ortiz is representing the Dominican Republic. It appears that with tonight's "world" format -- one player from each country or region represented in major league baseball -- that league officials are trying to distance this Derby from the steroid-fueled robo-slugging. No more gladiator vs. gladiator. Now, it will be sold as the Dominican Republic (Ortiz) vs., say, Canada (Jason Bay). This year, they don't even want Pujols, who has become the game's premier power hitter, in the competition.