- Jayson Stark, Senior Writer, ESPN.com
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HOUSTON -- So see what happens when you get all the active members of the 500-Homer Club together for the same Home Run Derby?
A 5-foot-9 shortstop -- who isn't even in the 200-Homer Club -- wins the thing. And sets an all-time record for most home runs in one Derby. Who else?
That would be Miguel ("I Don't Think I'm A Home Run Hitter") Tejada, proud owner of 171 big-league homers. Which seems like a lot of home runs -- until you remember it's a mere 510 fewer than Barry Bonds.
"After I won," said an apoplectic Tejada, "my heart went down. I say, 'Oh my God. I'm winning the Home Run Derby.' I usually watch it from my house, usually watch it on TV. And now the chance to be in there and winning is unbelievable."
Not to suggest our noble champion wasn't quite the No. 1 household Derby name in this event or anything. But Astros broadcast legend Milo Hamilton didn't even get Tejada's name right until his final half-dozen swings of the night. (Te-hay-day, Te-had-da. Aw, whatever.)
So no wonder that, before he ever took a swing in this extravaganza, Tejada was already hyperventilating. Asked beforehand about the idea of trying to win a Home Run Derby against one 600-homer guy (Barry Bonds), two 500-homer guys (Sammy Sosa and Rafael Palmeiro) and one 400-homer monster (Jim Thome), Tejada couldn't figure out how he even got invited -- let alone how he was going to beat anybody.
"That's something that's just unbelievable for me," he said. "I never thought I'd be in the same group with those guys, with Jim Thome and Sammy Sosa. Oh my God, I've gotta stop thinking about that."
Yeah, remember that, kids: Stop thinking. Start hacking. Good formula for Home Run Derby success. Take that advice to heart next time you're invited to one.
Or you could take a tip from the guy Tejada beat in the finals of this thing -- hometown Astros hero Lance Berkman. He has it all figured out, too.
In his previous Derby appearance, you see (two years ago in Milwaukee), Berkman finished dead last. Hit exactly one home run. Not good.
But his big mistake, he decided later, was that maybe it wasn't such a spectacular idea to swing at every pitch thrown. So he actually worked out signals with his BP pitcher Monday, Astros coach Mark Bailey, for taking a bunch of pitches.
"I told myself that at least that way, even if I didn't hit any home runs, at least I'd be on TV for 15 minutes," Berkman said. "After the last time, one of my buddies said to me, 'Were you in the Home Run Derby? I never saw you.' I said, 'Yeah, that's because I was gone in about 5½ minutes.' "
So this time, he was determined to take as many pitches as possible. Conserved energy. Maximized air time. Brilliant. Worked so well, he rode it all the way to the finals.
"Maybe you should write a book or put out an instructional video," we suggested afterward.
"I should," he said. "I doubt it would be a big seller, though. You've got kind of a niche market."
Hmmm. Good point. But there were about six big-time sluggers who probably would have crammed themselves into that niche Monday night -- because whatever they were doing, it sure wasn't working as well as what Tejada and Berkman were doing.
Tejada set official records for most home runs in one round (15, in Round 2) and most in one Derby (27). Berkman set a more unofficial record -- for most home runs fired out onto the streets of a real, live American city.
Thanks to his inspired decision to hit right-handed (because his right-handed swing was more conducive to this "softball atmosphere," he said), the switch-hitting Berkman thumped five balls onto the street in seven swings in Round 2, after the Minute Maid Park roof was opened following Round 1. And he would have bopped two more, if the left-field light tower and a giant All-Star Game sign hadn't gotten in the way.
Could have been downright hazardous. Fortunately, people in Houston are used to seeing stuff fall out of the sky. Usually, of course, it's hail stones. But this was close enough.
Asked if he was worried he might hurt somebody with all those blasts onto the asphalt, Berkman didn't sound particularly concerned.
"I'm pretty sure they had a disclaimer hanging out there," he said. "It said, 'Stand out here at your own risk.' Something like that. And even if they didn't, how would they know who hit it? It could have been me. Could have been someone else. They wouldn't even know who to sue."
See? We told you this guy had this Derby biz all figured out. And to think he was the next-to-last man named to participate -- and only got invited at all because Junior Griffey's hamstring decided to pop on him Saturday.
So who was the last man named? Tejada, naturally. And he only got in because Jason Giambi decided to back out on Sunday. Ladies and gentlemen, here's to the parasite that made it all possible.
So how perfect was this outcome? Baseball went out of its way to assemble all those living legends for the official Greatest Home Run Derby of all time. And two last-minute replacements -- with 313 career homers combined -- outpoked every one of them?
"It's like the wild card," Berkman said. "Just like, the last two years, wild cards won the World Series."
True. But who knew that beforehand? So we actually started feeling a little sorry for all the non-500-homer guys in this Derby. Hardly seemed fair.
Therefore, we proposed an idea: Shouldn't the 500-homer dudes have to give some sort of Derby handicap to the non-500-homer dudes?
"Yeah," said Thome, who owns a mere 409 bombs of his own. "I think so. They should give us something -- boy, I don't know what, though."
Well, we proposed, how about a 100-homer head start?
"Exactly," Thome pronounced. "That would be great."
But not everyone was onboard with that idea. We'll admit that.
"Maybe we should give them a handicap," Berkman quipped, "because they're getting kinda old."
OK, just kidding. And the handicap idea never did catch on. Nor did some of the other proposals we heard.
Berkman proposed a pitchers' Home Run Derby would be way more entertaining -- because "all they do in BP is try to hit home runs, anyway."
"Only problem is, I just don't know how they'd ever end it," Rolen said. "But it's a thought."
Yeah, there were lots of thoughts out there. But in the absence of any that made any sense, we'll just have to stick with the Derby motif we've got now: Bombs away.
And as it turned out, the non-500-homer guys didn't even need any handicaps. They did just fine on their own.
The first member of the 500-Homer Club to drop out of this thing was Sosa -- a major upset for a three-time Derby finalist in a right-handed hitter's paradise.
Two years after his last Derby appearance (in which he hit about a 950-foot moon orbiter over the center-field scoreboard in Milwaukee), Sammy gave a quick sign this might not be his night -- by swinging and missing on his first hack of the evening.
He went on to hit just one homer in his first nine swings. So even though he finished with five, including a 450-foot mortar into the left-field concourse, it took seven to advance to Round 2. So out he went in Round 1, for the first time since 1999.
Next to fall was Bonds, who still hasn't made a Derby final since he won the 1996 show in Philadelphia.
Bonds did mash a 483-foot monster in the first round that almost carried over the second deck in right. And he followed that with a 469-footer that nearly clipped a "Hit it Here, Win $1,000,000" sign. But it was all downhill from there. After eight homers in the first round, Barry disappeared in a three-homer cloud of dust in Round 2.
And with him went Palmeiro, the first player ever invited to a Derby even though he wasn't a member of either All-Star team. After a spectacular nine-homer eruption in Round 1, Palmeiro got eliminated by Berkman, 10 homers to 5, in Round 2.
So that left the thrills to Berkman and Tejada. Maybe they wouldn't have been the last men standing if the ESPN programming department had been allowed to write this script. But real life got in the way again.
"When I took my first swing," Tejada said, "I just said inside my heart, 'Miggy, you're not going to win. There's so many home run hitters that you're not going to win.' "
But just goes to show what he knows. Berkman could hit just four homers in the final round. Tejada then popped four in his first five swings -- before finishing off the latest, greatest Home Run Derby with a 378-foot shot that just missed landing on the left-field train tracks.
And with that, he also won a house for a woman from Renton, Wash., named Paula Bowen. Asked if she planned to invite Tejada to the house for dinner, Bowen replied: "You bet."
"I'll be there," Miguel Tejada told her.
Just as soon as he figures out how the heck he won this Home Run Derby against the greatest field of sluggers ever assembled in Derby Land.
Hitting one bomb after another, Miguel Tejada put on quite a show to win the Home Run Derby.