The 2018 Home Run Derby takes place this afternoon, as part of MLB’s All-Star festivities. There are no Oakland A’s in the running this year even though they stand sixth in the sport in dingers, and in fact there’s only one player from the American League at all (Alex Bregman). However, if you need a rooting interest then look no further than former A’s washout Max Muncy, who is hitting like an MVP this year for the Dodgers because baseball exists to mock us.
Honestly, this year’s Derby field is about as underwhelming as any I’ve ever seen. Don’t get me wrong, every individual player has a good case for being there, but together they just aren’t the guys you’d expect to be seeing: Harper, Freeman, Schwarber, Bregman, Aguilar, Baez, Muncy, Hoskins. All good sluggers, including some of this year’s league leaders. But if you’d picked eight names off the top your head, maybe you would have included two or three off that list at most.
Still, all the talk of home runs makes it easy to turn our eyes toward A’s history. Oakland holds a rich dinger history, even despite playing in one of the more difficult places to hit them. That got me to thinking what an all-time A’s Home Run Derby would look like.
First, a couple rules: There will be eight hitters competing, mirroring the real-life competition. We’re sticking to Oakland A’s history here, so apologies to Jimmie Foxx. The cutoff for entry is playing at least one full season with Oakland, so no dice for Adam Dunn or Mike Piazza. Beyond that, this is entirely subjective. Here are my picks, in no particular order.
1. Mark McGwire
His 363 dingers are the A’s franchise mark by a wide margin, even including pre-Oakland history. His overall 583 career mark is still 11th all-time, including a brief ownership of the single-season record. His still holds the top two single seasons in Oakland lore, at 52 and 49. He’s a borderline Hall of Famer based almost entirely on being the most efficient home run hitter in MLB history, and without the PED cloud he’d probably be in already. He also won a real-life Derby in an A’s uniform in 1992, so he’s not daunted by the nature of the exhibition contest. Big Mac is in.
2. Jose Canseco
Gotta include the other Bash Brother. His 254 in green and gold are a close third place, and his 462 are tied with Dunn for 37th in history. His legacy is based around being the guy who popularized using PEDs to build comically large muscles and then demolish baseballs, and twice he hit 40+ for the A’s. We don’t even have to imagine this one because Canseco is still participating in HR Derbies in real life at age 54 — just a few weeks ago he competed alongside Oakland prospect Sean Murphy in the Double-A Texas League edition (Murphy won).
3. Reggie Jackson
I don’t like his Yankee allegiances, but we can’t have this fictional Derby without him. His 268 are just ahead of Jose for second in Oakland history, and his overall 563 rank 14th. He topped out at 47 in 1969, more than any Oakland player except McGwire. His Mr. October nickname came with another team, but it was still based on dinger prowess. Somehow it also seems relevant that he’s the all-time leader in strikeouts, since it suggests how committed he was to slugging at all costs.
4. Jason Giambi
Another name who’s legacy is tied up in Yankee betrayal, but he belongs here. His 198 are fifth in Oakland history behind Eric Chavez (who will sadly be snubbed from this list), and his overall 440 are 43rd all-time. He knocked 43 in his MVP campaign in 2000, and he was the terrifying anchor of the lineup during my formative teenage years. He also won a real Derby in 2002, albeit representing New York. After-party at In-N-Out.
5. Yoenis Cespedes
He doesn’t rank high in the Oakland record books, because ... let me check my notes ... it says here he was traded away at some point. But his raw slugging ability is up there with anybody, and his very nickname La Potencia is Spanish for “power.” Most importantly, in real life he won two Derbies in green and gold, back-to-back in 2013 and ‘14. He’s one of only three players ever to win multiple times (with Ken Griffey Jr and Prince Fielder), and only he and Griffey won consecutive times. That earns him lifetime membership to all fictional Oakland Derbies.
6. Khris Davis
He’s the only Oakland player ever to hit 40 in back-to-back years, and he’s on pace right now to do it for a third straight season. McGwire came close to matching that feat (in 1995-97 he went 39, 52, traded at 34 but got to 58), but technically Khrush is the only one to actually do it. He doesn’t play defense, he doesn’t get on base, he just swats monstrous dingers left and right. Hopefully we’ll get to see him compete in a real Derby someday, though he sounds only lukewarm on the concept.
7. Frank Thomas
He only played one full season in Oakland, but it was a big one. He knocked 39 long balls in 2006 at age 38 and finished fourth in MVP voting as a DH, then led the A’s to their only postseason series victory of the 21st century. He returned for a brief encore a couple years later, but that ‘06 campaign is what makes him eligible here. His overall 521 (mostly with the White Sox) are tied for 20th in history, and he reached the Hall of Fame on his first ballot exclusively because of his powerful bat. The Big Hurt doesn’t have the long Bay Area resume of some of the other candidates, but he’s an all-time great who holds a special place in Oakland history.
8. Matt Stairs
There are a lot of good options for this last spot, but I’m going with the Professional Hitter. His 122 are only 11th in Oakland’s books, and his career finished at a relatively modest 265, but he didn’t even play a full season until he was 30 and spent most of his career as a part-time player — he holds the all-time record for pinch-hit homers with 23. Bill James and Joe Posnanski opine that he could have been a Hall of Famer if he’d started out in the right situation. Extra points for being a 5’9 bowling ball who looked like he got lost on the way to his company softball game.
Here are the next few names in the running for Stairs’ spot.
- Dave Kingman: His one-dimensional power is legendary, and he thrice hit 30+ for the A’s. His overall 442 are 42nd all-time, just ahead of Giambi. He was the inspiration for that Posnanski article linked above, with the suggestion that he could maybe have hit 600 if he’d spent his career in Fenway.
- Jack Cust: Effectively the reincarnation of Kingman, and just behind him in the Oakland books (100-to-97). Both of these guys struck out like their life depended on it, and Cust couldn’t catch even a routine fly ball, but if you’re having a dinger competition then keep them on speed dial.
- Miguel Tejada: He’s eighth in Oakland history at 156, and broke 300 for his career. His walk-off in Game 18 of The Streak is an all-time A’s highlight, and he also won the league MVP that year — his third straight season with 30+ long balls. He also won a real-life Derby, in 2004 with the Orioles.
- Eric Chavez: His 230 are fourth in Oakland history, making him the highest on the list to not make this imaginary Derby. He broke 30 twice and reached 29 twice more, though his enduring legacy revolves around his elite defense. Arguably the best player of all time to never make an All-Star team.
- Dave Parker: Only played two years for the A’s, but he was a feared slugger and he won the very first real-life Derby back in 1985 (with the Reds).
More fun names
Here’s the rest of the list I started with, in roughly chronological order:
- Sal Bando
- Gene Tenace
- Tony Armas
- Dwayne Murphy
- Rickey Henderson
- Dave Henderson
- Terry Steinbach
- Ruben Sierra
- Geronimo Berroa
- John Jaha
- Ben Grieve
- Jermaine Dye
- Nick Swisher
- Josh Reddick
- Brandon Moss
- Josh Donaldson
- Chris Carter (questionable if he’s eligible)
- Matt Olson (ask again in five years and maybe he makes it)
Who would have made your version of the Oakland A’s Derby? Vote in the poll below for the your opinion on the final spot I gave to Stairs!
Who should get the final spot (which I gave to Stairs)?
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