Since it’s inception in 1985, the Home Run Derby has gone through many changes. Initially, the event wasn’t even televised, and mostly amounted to bragging rights for the players participating. With the introduction of an increasingly massive television audience—spurred, no doubt, by the steroid era’s infatuation with long balls—various marketing schemes and corporate angles were superimposed on the contest: in 2005, players were selected by nationality in an attempt to promote the inaugural World Baseball Classic; in recent years, brands like T-Mobile and Century 21 Real Estate introduced philanthropic brand promotions wherein golden baseballs at the end of a given round would result in corporate donations to various charities; most recently, the game switched to a timed format in which players have a set amount of time to uppercut as many balls as possible into the July night (which also allows for more convenient commercial pauses).
Amidst all these changes, one thing has remained consistent: the San Diego Padres are seldom represented in the contest. The entire list of Padres participants is as follows:
- Steve Garvey (1985)
- Gary Sheffield and Fred McGriff (1992)
- Adrian Gonzalez (2009)
- Wil Myers (2016)
That’s it. Nobody has ever won the contest while representing the Padres.
The issue is, in most years the Padres wouldn’t be able to manufacture a gripe about being excluded from the Derby. Historically, the team hasn’t been flush with consistent, celebrity power hitters (see here for obligatory mentions of Greg Vaughn, Ken Caminiti, Colbert, Nevin, et al.). Our most famous player ever was known for punching balls through the 5.5 hole. But that’s history.
Renfroe and Reyes
This season is different. The Padres have two guys, in Franmil Reyes and Hunter Renfroe, who rank within the top 8 for total home runs across all of baseball. Combined, they’ve launched 52 pre-break home runs this season.
They are the first Padres duo ever to each have 20 home runs or better before the break.
Renfroe is actually 5th in all of baseball with his 27 taters. That’s behind Christian Yelich, who was selected but pulled out due to back problems, Peter Alonso, who ended up winning, Cody Bellinger, who declined an invite, and Mike Trout, who declines an invite ‘every year’, Josh Bell, whom Renfroe is tied with in total home runs, was selected to participate. Renfroe said a few weeks ago that he would be “honored” to take part, and Reyes echoed a similar sentiment. According to follow-up reporting, neither were invited before the final field of 8 was selected.
Hunter Renfroe has 24 dingers. Franmil Reyes has 22. They're both BP legends. Would either of them want a shot at the Derby?— AJ Cassavell (@AJCassavell) June 27, 2019
"Of course, my man. I'm just waiting," Reyes said.
"I'd be honored to do it," Renfroe said.
I vote for a play-in game. How 'bout Friday during BP.
The final field looked like this:
The 2019 Home Run Derby bracket is set ⚾️— ESPN (@espn) July 4, 2019
MLB HR leader Christian Yelich headlines the field of eight that will face off on Monday at 8PM ET on ESPN. pic.twitter.com/R2VhXcvnQ4
So, what gives?
It could be argued that Renfroe’s somewhat ‘vanilla’ personality wouldn’t be a huge attraction from an MLB marketing standpoint. That would have held some water, until ‘Froe was passed over to replace Yellich in favor of ultra-vanilla A’s slugger Matt Chapman—who trails Hunter by 6 home runs so far.
As for Reyes, it’s really, really, really hard to see why he was passed over. He hits the ball harder than almost anyone, has power to all fields, and is perhaps the most gregarious player in baseball. He has a good command of the English language, is Latin American, and has a body that simply pops off the television screen. From a marketing standpoint, it is difficult to see how MLB—in its mysterious selection criteria—would not recognize that Franmil could become one of their most popular young players with a little promotion.
Critics would argue that Reyes hasn’t put up enough of a consistent track record to warrant being promoted by the league in a marquee event. To those critics, I would point to the 2018 bracket, which featured Dodgers player Max Muncy—a guy who had about 300 not-putrid career at-bats at the time of his selection.
Market Bias Conspiracy Theories
As you may have noticed in the above tweet for the 2019 contest, the West Coast had a grand total of 1 participant before Chapman’s last-minute replacement. Still, that gave 75% of the field to Midwest or East Coast teams, which, well, is pretty much business as usual for anything involving ESPN.
We also may not want to gloss over the exclusion of The Franchise. Considering that “Vladito” was included (and, admittedly, put on a heck of a show), it’s a little irking that Tatis Jr., who has been in every single phase of the game a more sensational player than Guerrero Jr. thus far, wasn’t extended a similar, future-oriented platform. From a somewhat biased perspective, you would think that MLB would be rushing to plaster images of Tatis Jr. on every bus stop in America, considering that he ranks among the top 30 players in 2019 WAR despite having missed more than a month of games. I mean, good grief.
All in all, I found this year’s Derby to be a kind of bitter affair, as I watched players of arguably inferior credentials compete for the opportunity of increased exposure and a $1MM prize (there was a total of $2.5MM handed out to participants). Am I crazy bitter, or does anyone out there feel similarly slighted?
The Home Run Derby Was...
This poll is closed
Bah-Humbug—Moar Padres Plz!
Could Not Care Less