Baseball Chatter

Ryan HowardSAN FRANCISCO -- It's not hard to get people to watch the Home Run Derby, which has become the most popular aspect of All-Star Week by far -- at least the length of a Barry Bonds home run, if not double.

The tough part is getting players to participate in the glorified batting practice session in the first place.

The trendy move by the game's biggest stars nowadays is to demure from the Derby despite its growing status as one of the game's crown jewel events. The excuses they offer for their absence range from the superstitious ("Remember what this thing did to Bobby Abreu's swing?") to the over precautious ("My left butt cheek is a little on the sore side").

Thus did Bonds light a fire amid the local fan base here in San Francisco by announcing he would not participate in tonight's Derby so he could rest up for the All-Star Game and the second half, even though the last-place Giants already are hopelessly out of the race.

"It's not that you don't want to, it's that you just can't anymore,'' Bonds said. "You can't. It's too long. Too much waiting. Too much sitting around. You can't do that.''

Keep in mind that this is the same Bonds who belted 34 home runs after the break in 2001 -- a year in which he participated in the oh-so-grueling Home Run Derby. (Click here for a complete list of second-half production from top HR Derby finishers since 1998.)

Giants owner Peter Magowan responded by saying the embattled slugger "passed up a real opportunity to be able to thank the fans." As one fan said to the Modesto Bee, "This is a perfect example of why Barry Bonds simply doesn't get it."

Similarly, you won't see Alex Rodriguez, Ken Griffey Jr. or David Ortiz in tonight's festivities because of concerns over tweaking their hitting mechanics.

"I've worked hard for my swing and I definitely don't want to let anything get in the way of that," Rodriguez said.

A couple of recent examples of second-half slumps have fueled such talk. Most notably, Abreu went into the tank after crushing the field in the 2005 Derby with 41 home runs. His slugging percentage dropped more than 100 points in the second half and he's hit only 20 home runs overall since that Comerica Park explosion. Mets third baseman David Wright had a power dropoff last season -- only six homers after the break -- after placing second in the Derby.

But who is to say the Derby itself was the cause for those slumps? Players have poor second halves all the time, Derby or not. Even if you buy Abreu's continued use of the Derby as an excuse for his power drain, how can that still be affecting him years later? It's more likely that Abreu isn't hitting home runs because his skills are in steep decline and not because he took a few extra BP swings two years ago.

As for Wright, he was a young player just entering superstar status last season. His second-half slump probably had more to do with NL pitchers adjusting to him than anything else.

Thankfully for the fans, not everybody feels the same way. Ryan Howard, last year's champion, didn't make the All-Star roster but flew in specifically to defend his crown. Considering he hit 30 home runs after the All-Star break last season -- compared to 28 before -- it's safe to say you won't hear him complaining about a supposed "Home Run Derby jinx."

And Colorado's Matt Holliday, who officially entered the derby Monday, doesn't see much harm in the competition. "I practice my swing a million times a year," Holliday said. "If 20 swings or 40 swings are going to screw it up, then I wasn't that good to begin with."

The rest of the field includes Albert Pujols, a late addition who had to be cajoled into participating and is mired in a career-worst 74 at-bat homerless drought, Prince Fielder, Alex Rios, Justin Morneau, Vladimir Guerrero and Magglio Ordonez.

It's a stout group, especially with Pujols included, but it's still missing the man who has blasted the great majority of the 44 home runs hit into McCovey Cove -- Barry Bonds.


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