WASHINGTON — The All-Star Home Run Derby used to capture the imagination of fans and All-Stars alike, but it appears that many of the game’s biggest boppers have cooled on the idea.
Of the eight sluggers who participated in the signature event of the All-Star workout day at Nationals Park on Monday night, only two — Milwaukee Brewers first baseman Jesús Aguilar and Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper — ranked among major league baseball’s top 10 home run hitters at the break.
When Aguilar went out in the first round, that left Harper to supply just about all of the star power, and he delivered with a dramatic victory over Chicago Cubs outfielder Kyle Schwarber in the final round before a delirious home crowd announced at 43,698.
Harper didn’t appear to have time to match Schwarber’s 18 final-round homers, but launched a string of long shots in the final minute to tie the score at the buzzer, then won it with on his second swing of “bonus time.”
He threw his bat into the air with two hands and did an exaggerated fist pump to celebrate a victory that should — at least temporarily silence questions about the entertainment value of the event.
"It was unbelievable,'' Harper said. "Just having the crowd out there. We've got some of the best fans in the world, and to be able do that in front of my family. It was an incredible moment, not only for me but for this organization and the Nationals fans.
"This trophy is really cool. It kind of reminds me of the Silver Slugger."
Aguilar, the No. 1 seed, came in ranked sixth in the majors with 24 homers. Harper is tied for eighth. Every other player listed among the top 10 except Giancarlo Stanton was named to one of the two All-Star teams but chose not to participate.
The Orioles’ Manny Machado was one of them. So was defending champion Aaron Judge.
Harper told reporters recently that he probably would not have taken part if the All-Star Game was not being played in his home ballpark.
So, instead of Judge and Stanton rattling the rafters like last year, the Derby featured All-Star leadoff hitter Javier Báez, Houston Astros third baseman Alex Bregman, Atlanta Braves slugger Freddie Freeman and three non-All-Stars — Schwarber, Philadelphia Phillies left fielder-first baseman Rhys Hoskins and Los Angeles Dodgers first baseman Max Muncy.
Make no mistake. Everyone who participated can hit for power and all of them peppered the stands with long home runs. The event simply lacked the kind of star power that it regularly featured in the past, which might not bode well for the future.
Aguilar went out in the very first matchup, and the event was doomed to lose another of one of the biggest names since Harper and Freeman faced each other in the first round. Harper knocked Freeman out with about 30 seconds left in his round.
One of the more entertaining rounds wasn’t actually part of the competition. After the first two head-to-head sets by the major leaguers, the finalists in the All-Star High School Home Run Derby — top national prospects Rece Hinds and Bobby Witt Jr. — took their turns, with Witt winning with just seconds remaining in his turn.