In a world where virtually nothing can exist without some sort of counterpart, the general sporting public has paired the Home Run Derby with basketball's Slam Dunk Contest, and it's pretty obvious why. Both events take place the night before their sport's All-Star Game, both would move much faster and be more exciting if commercials weren't such a necessary evil, and both turn top-level athletes into giddy spectators.
But the derby is so much simpler. There are no judges or props, and teammates can't be brought in to assist. There's nothing but four minutes on the clock, a bat in the hands and a basket of souvenirs-to-be.
The competition is rather primitive, with only one real objective: bashing a lot of home runs a long way. And in the past few years, there has been a consensus among baseball fans that Giancarlo Stanton is the best at doing that. If your life depended on one man hitting a baseball 450 feet, you would clamor for Stanton without hesitation.
Stanton spent his Monday night launching mammoth shot after mammoth shot, bulldozing his way through the bracket. He stepped in after Mark Trumbo laced eight straight home runs to knock off Corey Seager, and somehow provided an even more jaw-dropping spectacle. He blasted 24 homers in four and a half minutes, burying first-round opponent Robinson Cano seemingly before Cano took a single swing. Stanton followed with 17 in the second round, a total that Trumbo, whose 28 homers lead the majors, couldn't match. And his 20 homers in the final round were more than enough to knock off defending champion Todd Frazier. The damage added up to 61 long balls, by far the most in the event's history (although the current format does produce much higher home run totals).
61 homers in 13 and a half minutes means Stanton drilled one every 13.3 seconds, which is absurd. But perhaps more impressive than the quantity was the distance attached to them. Stanton mashed 20 of the 22 longest shots of the night, including the entire top 10. He topped out at 497 feet, twice. In all, he hit over five miles of home runs.
Stanton was essentially built for this competition—he stands 6'6" and weighs 245 pounds of pure muscle, and statistically hits the ball harder than anyone in the major leagues. So for him not to win the derby until his seventh season is somewhat of an upset. He only competed once before this year, in 2014 at Target Field in Minnesota. He lashed six homers in the first round, but was shut out in his next trip up and failed to reach the finals. Stanton also planned to partake in the 2012 derby but was injured the week prior to the event.
The timed format, introduced last year, allowed Stanton to find his rhythm and start playing a game of pepper with the fans beneath the scoreboard in left center. Petco Park isn't an easy place to hit balls out, but Stanton didn't care. He shouldn't have a problem next year, either, when, barring injury, he'll defend his crown at Marlins park, where he's already done plenty of damage (literally).
It's certainly ironic that Stanton won his first derby in the year he wasn't also named an All-Star (he's made the team three times). In fact, he's probably having the fourth-best season by a Marlins outfielder (behind Marcell Ozuna, Christian Yelich and 42-year-old Ichiro Suzuki). Stanton's batting average currently sits at .233 and has been as low as .192 this year, but he has come around as of late. He knocked five homers in the last week of the first half, bringing his total to 20 for the season. That was still only enough to earn the 5-seed in a derby where going last is a real advantage. Stanton was the only lower-seeded player to win any matchup—and he did it three times.
By sunset in San Diego, Stanton reaffirmed his place among the planet's most talented baseball players. He is to hitting balls what Aroldis Chapman is to throwing them; both bring unmatched power to their position. Stanton may never live up to what is currently baseball's largest contract ever ($325 million over 13 years), but he is still one of the sport's top entertainment spectacles. He was always destined to win the Home Run Derby. Monday night was his time.