Years later, Bo knows power of Derby stage
All-Star events have grown since slugger blasted onto scene
ANAHEIM -- Bo Jackson knows about home runs.
Especially right here at Angel Stadium, where the State Farm Home Run Derby now takes center stage Monday night amid a fabulous All-Star Week in Anaheim.
"I'm a fan of the Home Run Derby, because I like to watch the new guys. Most of the guys who are playing now, they weren't even teenagers then," he said Sunday night.
"Then" was 21 years earlier, exactly to the night. That was the night the legend of Bo was cemented even more. Remember? He crushed a first-inning homer for the American League and then went on to win the All-Star Game Most Valuable Player Award in the AL victory.
This time, Jackson was wearing the same powder-blue Royals cleats and had just crushed a Jennie Finch pitch far over a fence as well, leading the AL to a big victory in the annual Legends & Celebrities Softball Game.
Oh, would Bo Jackson ever love to have this Home Run Derby transported back to his glory days. It had to grow on its own over time, built up by Ken Griffey Jr. and Mark McGwire and Bobby Abreu and Josh Hamilton. With everyone watching back in 1989, what a show it could have been. What you probably don't remember is that he actually participated in one Home Run Derby, the day before those heroics, collecting a single homer as Eric Davis and Ruben Sierra won with a whopping three apiece.
"Of course I would. Of course I would," he repeated when asked if he wished this had been his stage. "I think they had the Home Run Derby back then. They had it. But it wasn't as big as then."
This is big, nearly as big as the 81st All-Star Game itself. The 2010 State Farm Home Run Derby is a largely untested field featuring Miguel Cabrera of the Tigers, Corey Hart of the Brewers, Matt Holliday of the Cardinals, David Ortiz of the Red Sox, Hanley Ramirez of the Marlins, Nick Swisher of the Yankees, Vernon Wells of the Blue Jays and Chris Young of the D-backs.
The Midsummer Classic looms ahead at 8 p.m. ET on Tuesday, another chance for the NL to beat the AL for the first time since 1996, and in the meantime you immerse yourself in this All-Star Week and you can gradually feel the excitement level rising. That is the way it always is, a passion play that grows in intensity with every single act, until the big finish.
It starts with FanFest that runs for five days, and then comes the Sunday docket featuring the XM All-Star Futures Game (a 9-1 U.S. shellacking of the World team) followed by the adorable softball fun. Then comes the bombardment of home runs, evoking more disbelief each year, and then finally the All-Star Game with unpredictable storylines and every Major League fan base represented.
"I just want to see people hit 'em really, really far," said Marlins first-base prospect Logan Morrison. "I don't care who it is. I just want to see how far they go."
Morrison had just made a nice impression as the U.S. first baseman on Sunday, and he said he is going to stay behind and can't wait for the Home Run Derby just like everyone else.
"I'll be staying here -- I might give JJ [Josh Johnson] a call and see if he can't get me down on the field," Morrison said. "He's got his kids, but maybe he or Hanley or somebody can get me down there. If not, no big deal, I think I can get some tickets."
We love home runs, and now it is time to celebrate them.
"Yeah. It'll be pretty cool," said Sean Garvey.
He is 11 years old, and he will be one of those kids shagging flies during this Home Run Derby. As he talked, fireworks exploded in the night sky overhead, and his father, Steve Garvey, smiled as his son spoke, knowing what it means to pass on the All-Star tradition.
"Major League Baseball has done a fabulous job in expanding the context of the All-Star Game," the Dodgers legend said. "From the beginning of FanFest to the Futures Game to the Legends & Celebrities Game and of course the Home Run Derby that's so popular and then the game itself -- nobody does it better than Major League Baseball. It's a celebration of our national pastime, and for those of us who were blessed to play the game, it's a time to honor and to give tribute to the best game in the world, really."
Monday is Gatorade Workout Day, giving fans a chance their first glimpse of the stars gathered together and enjoying their official All-Star respite after a long day-to-day run. They were selected by fans, and some were selected by managers, coaches, players and MLB. Then the focus is on eight sluggers, as the other All-Stars kick back in front of the dugouts with their families and everyone prepares for the inevitable feeling of awe as titanic blasts take flight. They will ricochet around the rocky waterfall out in center, and maybe they will reach those Hit It Here signs for a big payoff.
"I think it's always fun," Garvey said. "No matter who's in it, it's gonna be a great evening. I'm so very fortunate I've got my son shagging. I finally have two boys after five girls, so now my second one's going to shag in this one. It's a great memory for them. Ryan did it at Yankee Stadium [in 2008], and now to have Sean do it here at Angel Stadium and being a Southern Californian, I think that's pretty neat. "That's what the game is all about. It's about families, it's about fun, it's about the national pastime."
It was about the national pastime back in 1989, about sluggers then as well. What does Bo Jackson remember about that famous home run to dead center?
"You can't compare the two eras, because you have different players from then and now," he said. "The most important thing is that we're here to entertain the fans. If you can entertain the fans and have fun in the process, then you have been successful. I think we gave the fans a pretty good show.
"Now we get to watch the Derby. It's nice to sit up and watch the -- I can say 'younger guys' now -- go out and do things that we used to do 20-something years ago."
Asked if he has a pick, Jackson shrugged. "No I don't," he said. "A bunch of new kids. I predict somebody from the American League to win it."
He spoke while walking through the same clubhouse tunnel he walked through that night now seemingly so long ago, a different time indeed.
He heard a familiar voice: "Bo knows. Hey, Bo."
It was Jackie Autry, the honorary AL president. Back then, her husband, the late Gene Autry, was owner of those All-Star host Angels.
Then Carter, the Hall of Fame catcher whose long run of NL All-Star success was hampered by Jackson that night, came out and saw him again and said, "Bo knows! Bo knows! Yes he does."
Baseball is memories, like Bo Jackson going deep, like Garvey and Carter leading the way for the NL, like the ever-growing Home Run Derby and Prince Fielder's moonshots to win it a year ago. Now it is time to put eight power hitters together again now, and see who steals the show in 2010.