The eight-player lineup for next week’s Home Run Derby was announced Thursday, and it did not include Mariners fan favorite Dae-Ho Lee.
To borrow what Henry Higgins said before revealing that he’d become accustomed to the face of Eliza Doolittle: Damn! Damn! Damn! Damn!
I realize getting worked up about a sports event that’s not really a sports event is silly. There’s only so much angry energy inside any man, and it’s better devoted toward telephone scammers, neglectful pet owners, corrupt dictators, and those occasions when you’re chewing food and miss the food and instead bite the inside of your cheek.
Besides, I can’t remember the last time I watched a Home Run Derby in its entirety. Lob and swing, followed by another lob, another swing, over and over and over. Sometimes the ball goes over the fence, sometimes the ball doesn’t go over the fence. This is not my idea of entertainment, and I am easily entertained. (Norm Crosby, the comedian whose act was based on such malapropisms as “decapitated coffee” and “trousers that need an altercation,” made me laugh whenever he took the stage.)
Compounding the Derby drudgery is Chris Berman. Advocates of using waterboarding as an interrogation device should know that forcing terrorists to listen to Chris Berman for four hours would be a much more effective method of torture.
And yet, if Dae-Ho Lee had been suspected — er, selected, I’ve got Norm Crosby on my mind — the Home Run Derby would’ve loomed as can’t-miss TV. Lee was a candidate to steal the show. Win, lose, whatever, the results don’t matter. What matters is the morning-after observations millions of viewers figured to share around the office water cooler.
In one enchanted evening, “Big Boy” could’ve graduated from Seattle-area cult figure to national celebrity. Nothing against Kyle Seager’s younger brother Corey, the Dodgers shortstop whose 17 homers earned him a slot in the derby field, but Corey Seager is not the most intriguing rookie of the 2016 season.
That distinction belongs to Lee, whose story — orphaned as a toddler in South Korea and raised by an impoverished grandparent who struggled to put food on the table, he sensed that baseball provided a life line to a better world, and he clutched it — should be transformed into a Disney movie.
But Lee is out, and the Cincinnati Reds’ Adam Duvall is in, and that ought to amp up the intensity of the contest. An outfielder/first baseman hitting .235 this season, Duvall has slugged 30 homers during his three-year career.
Robinson Cano is in as well, but who would you rather see step up to the plate Monday night? Lee, who just turned 34 and may or may not be part of the Mariners’ future after 2016, or Cano, whose contract with the team is guaranteed through 2023?
You might recall what I didn’t until a moment ago, when I looked it up, that Cano won the 2011 contest. Although heartstrings not often are pulled during the Home Run Derby, Cano’s performance induced tears unrelated to late-night yawning. His father, Jose, threw the batting-practice tosses.
Cano is a good guy, and father-son scenarios built around baseball are the best. But Cano’s attempt to finish first for the second time, with his dad on the mound again, will not interest me.
Using some imagination in putting together the eight-man derby field would interest me. Definition of imagination: Replacing defending champion Todd Frazier with, say, Ichiro Suzuki, who is closing in on 3,000 career hits during the last of his 16 seasons in the big leagues.
Ichiro’s reputation preceded his MLB debut with the 2001 Mariners: A meticulous craftsman who could spray the ball anywhere, and go yard — anytime — if so inclined. The Home Run Derby would be an opportunity for Ichiro to show his latent power potential isn’t a myth.
Another definition of imagination: Allowing San Francisco starting pitcher Madison Bumgarner to take some swings. Bumgarner is legit with a bat in his hands — so legit Giants manager Bruce Bochy appointed him a spot in a conventional lineup last week for an interleague road game, where a DH is an always-used option — but the Players Association had issues with a pitcher participating in the Home Run Derby.
So Bumgarner won’t be there, and Ichiro won’t be there, and several candidates more likely to move the interest meter more than Mark Trumbo and Wil Myers won’t be there. Would it be a travesty to invite some retired legends into this thing?
Dae-Ho Lee isn’t retired, and he isn’t a legend. All he had done before the derby lineup got posted Thursday was hit 12 homers in 172 at-bats, sustaining the power that produced 323 homers in South Korea and Japan.
There’s a desperate dearth of personalities in baseball these days. No matter that he speaks next to no English, Lee is a personality who transcends language barriers. He could’ve have made four hours of Chris Berman almost tolerable.
I doubt I’ll tune in. Life is too short for wasted nights, especially when you’ve got trousers in need of altercation.