Okay, so I'm watching SportsCenter as we speak, and earlier there was a "Right Now on SportsCenter" update saying that Alex Rodriguez has chosen not to participate in the home run derby because "he is one of many players who believe the Home Run Derby affects his swing." It went on to say that A-Rod was quoted saying "My responsibility is to the New York Yankees first."
My dislike of A-Rod and the Yankees aside, when I heard this story, all I could think was, "COME ON! Are you SERIOUS?"
There are several reasons for my incredulity. First of all, A-Rod is, whether I like it or not, one of the best players in baseball today, and he will eventually hold the record for most home runs hit by a single player (although hopefully Ryan Howard will surpass him not long afterwards). He should participate in the home run derby if for no other reason than that. The Home Run Derby has, in recent years, been forced to call upon hitters with subpar power numbers in order to make the competition work. Last year, there was Alex Rios (who admittedly finished second, but is not known as a power hitter by any standard). In 2006, there was Jermaine Dye (in the twilight of his career at this point). In 2005, there was Hee-Seop Choi (REALLY?). There is no reason those names could not have been replaced with other names from baseball's hitting elite. And A-Rod should have been in that competition all three of those years.
Second, A-Rod has no reason to expect that his swing would be affected by participating in the Derby. Sure, it's happened to others (Bobby Abreu now being the prime example after his 41-HR performance in 2005), but where is the proof that it would happen to him? The last time he participated in the Derby was 2002, and in that year with the Rangers, he actually hit more homers after the All-Star Break (30) than before (27), despite playing in fewer games. His 2001 stats, another year where he participated in the Derby, actually show increases in a lot of stats after the Break - 25 HR's, a .310 average, a .993 OPS, and 5 SB's before the All-Star Break, versus 27 HR's, a .328 average, a 1.052 OPS, and 13 SB's after the Break. Where's the personal evidence for A-Rod that he would be negatively affected by this contest? I don't see any.
Third, A-Rod's comments about his duty being to the Yankees are laughable to me. A-Rod is not a player who has ever shown that he cares for his team. And on top of that, he has his priorities completely mixed up. His obligations are not to the Yankees, they are to the fans who spend hundreds of dollars on tickets just to see him play. And the fans who go to the Home Run Derby (at his hometown stadium, no less) want to see the best Derby possible. But if the best players are not in the Derby, then the fans are not getting their money's worth. That's all it boils down to.
And if I might add a little commentary on the Yankees - in the 22 Home Run Derbies that have happened thus far, the Yankees have had participated three times. The only teams with with fewer participation totals are Kansas City (twice), Florida (twice), and Arizona (once). And of those three teams, two (Arizona and Florida) are expansion teams, and one (Kansas City) has been among the worst teams in the league for over ten years (although, to be fair, they have improved significantly in the past two years). To be in a group with these teams for lowest participation totals is inexcusable, especially for one of the oldest and most storied franchises in the history of baseball.
(To be fair, Minnesota, San Diego, and Pittsburgh have each only participated in three Derbies as well. However, Minnesota and San Diego are teams that have always been known for their pitching, not hitting, and Pittsburgh, much like Kansas City, has consistently been one of the worse teams in the league.)
What makes the Yankees' lack of Derby participation even more laughable is that, in the three Derbies they appeared in, they've combined to hit 64 home runs, good enough for sixth on the list of most HR's hit by a team in the Derby. The seventh place team, Oakland, has hit 62 total HR's in 10 Derby appearances. The basic translation of those statistics is this: the Yankees, in theory, could dominate the Derby if they chose to appear in it, much as they have dominated so many other areas in the sport. And yet they choose not to. Why? Why would they not participate when even more glory could be theirs?
I do not, for the life of me, understand why A-Rod, the Yankees and their ownership continue to make such strange decisions. The only possible conclusion I can make is that the Steinbrenners (and now, the players in their employ as well) have continued to do what they always do: forsake the tradition of the game, forget about the fans, discard the rules of fairness, and single-mindedly seek the World Series title without any thought for how the game is supposed to fun.
Because in the end, that is all baseball is - a game.