This morning in the recaps, I said this about Ichiro refusing MLB’s request that he participate in the Home Run Derby:
The guy hits six homers a year. The only reason they’d want him in there is as a cynical ratings ploy for the Japanese market, which I’m assuming gets the All-Star broadcast. Good for him for not wanting to be used like that.
I’ll admit that those are some cynical words. And maybe I’m wrong about that. Just seems plausible to me, because really, why else are you gonna ask Ichiro to be in the Home Run Derby?
In response, commenter Jack Marshall (and some others) made reference to a famous old story about Ty Cobb, and mentioned Wade Boggs’ alleged batting practice home run power — and anomalous 1987 season — as well:
The intriguing aspect is that, at least according to the last Ty Cobb biography, some players in Ichiro’s general category have really been like that: the book says that late in his career Cobb told everyone he was going for homers that day just to prove hitting them was no great accomplishment, hit a couple, and then pronounced distaste for that kind of brute game and never swung for the fences again. I would have loved to see Wade Boggs, who had the rep of being a batting practice slugger, in a home run contest.
What Jack is referring to is the story in which Cobb claimed to have told reporters before a game sometime in the 1920s that he simply preferred not to hit home runs because they were inartful or crude or supported racial equality or something. As proof, Cobb set out one day with the intention of hitting home runs to show them that he could do it if he wanted to, but he simply didn’t want to. And by gum, he did! Next day, of course, and for the rest of his career, he returned to being the ball-sprayin’ Georgia Peach everyone knew and loathed.
Except I seem to remember that Ty Cobb story being debunked a couple of years ago by Neyer or someone. I couldn’t find the link immediately, so if anyone can find it, please let me know. Even if I’m wrong about that, however, I find it implausible. Why? Because Cobb was a lot of things, but chief among those things were that he was (a) very, very smart; and (b) very, very greedy, and each of those things cuts against that story having any veracity.
As for being smart: there is no way Cobb didn’t know and appreciate the inherent value of a home run vs. a triple, double or single. Sure, he may have had a big home run day once upon a time, but if he could hit home runs at will like he claimed, he certainly would have because it would have simply been smarter baseball in the 1920s, which is when that story took place, and Cobb was all about smart baseball.
As for greedy: Cobb was as good a money maker as he was a hitter, and I’d wager that he, more than anyone, knew the kind of money Babe Ruth was making in the 1920s. As such, Cobb knew that if he could have been reborn as a home run hitter after years of being a batting champion, he’d have been richer than Croesus (as it stood, he had to content himself with being slightly less rich than Coesus).
All of which is to say that while it’s possible that Ty Cobb was capable of a bit more power than he showed in his career, he was no home run hitter and he knew it. I suspect Ichiro knows it too, and for that reason, he wisely doesn’t want any part of the Home Run Derby.