Friday, July 17, 2009

Fielder Wins, But Pujols Shines... or at least his head does...

What would Blogger Arrow be without my annual tribute to the Home Run Derby? Let me start with some quick flashbacks to 2008, 2007, and 2006. Ah yes. Those were the days where it took far more than eleven home runs to really impress the crowds. *sigh* This year's competition was severely lacking in the "He hit HOW many???" category that brought jaw drops to greats such as Josh Hamilton and Bobby Abreyu. But as always, I offer a tip of my hat to this year's champion Prince Fielder, first baseman of the Milwaukee Brewers.

With Prince taking the title and Albert Pujols (first baseman of the St. Louis Cardinals) as the obvious favorite, I have to take note of the fact that these two talents both hail from the National League Central division - also the home of first base greats Lance Berkman of the Astros and the supremely awesome Derrek Lee of the Chicago Cubs. There's no doubting the phenomenal quality of baseball played by all four of these men (their numbers speak for themselves) but it leads me to question why the NLC is routinely criticized as the worst division around. Granted, the division typically produces a close race in which many of the teams boast mediocre records at best, but I have to argue that those stats are due more to evenly matched rivalries than overall lack of talented teams, as the media tends to imply.

Before I distract myself too far with topics such as East Coast Bias, let me return to the subject of Albert Pujols. I'm anything but a Cardinals fan, however I have great respect for Mr. P. He's the epitome of a classy player and despite his astounding numbers in the game, he constantly comes across as humble - giving equal praise to both teammates and rivals - and professes his faith in God when attributing a source to his talent. There is one thing, though, that I always seem to forget about Pujols, that I was reminded of at the Home Run Derby: he is bald.

(Not that there is anything wrong with that. I have long been an admirer of the follicly challenged.)

Something about his shiny head, though always seems to surprise me. Perhaps the oddest spectacle of the Home Run Derby was seeing both Pujols and Fielder taking the plate with exposed heads - a rare safe opportunity to do so since there is little to no risk that a batting practice pitcher of their choosing would throw a fastball up and in. Since baseball players are so rarely seen without their caps or batting helmets on, their hairstyles (or lack thereof) can be a bit shocking. Hence my surprise at Mr. P's sparkling pate. For another example, look to White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski. With his catcher's gear, ballcap or batting helmet on he looks like a perfectly normal individual. And yet, when he removes his head-ware, one is confronted with a bizarre shock of bleach-blond hair leaving one to speculate on his passion for surfing in the off-season.

The baseball cap is more than just a uniform piece. It is a fashion statement that these talented men seem to incorporate into their personas. With their team loyally identified across their foreheads, it's no surprise that many of them look like entirely different individuals when seen with exposed craniums. It was actually something of an image hunt to find a photo of Albert without his trademark red top. But it just goes to show that despite their feats on the field, these heroes really are everyday people too.


Tony said...

"Ah yes. Those were the days where it took far more than eleven home runs to really impress the crowds. *sigh*"

...Actually, Lisa, I count it as a sign of progress that the home run ball has reverted to its formerly rare frequency. I confess that I was in the front of the line with fans gobbling up Sammy's moon shots and his home run chase of '98.

But could this be an indication that perhaps the game has significantly cleaned up in the past few years? Is not the home run more special when it is less commonplace?

I just hope to God that Mr. P hasn't ever used that stuff.

lisa :) said...

Yeah but I think it's safe to say Hamilton's clean and he whaled out 28 of them last year!

I think Fielder could've easily gone close to 20 in the final round if he hadn't won once he hit 6.

What can I say, I love the long ball!

Greg said...

Yeah, from what I know of him, Albert Pujols seems like a class act.

One bad thing about this "steroids era" is that anytime a guy does put up big numbers, people become a little suspicious. If, in fact, Pujols has put up these numbers without breaking the rules, then wow, what an amazing run he's had. I agree with you, Tony, and do hope he's clean.

Also, some guys just naturally have a good swing for the HR Derby. During the telecast, I think they said Ken Griffey Jr. is the only guy to win it more than once--and he won it 3 times. He naturally had a sweet uppercut to his swing, which apparently gave him an advantage. For what it's worth, I've heard a rumor that Ichiro (only 6 homers this season) would actually do really well in the HR Derby based on what people have seen him do in batting practice... Apparently he's turned down a few invitations to the derby, though.