KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Years from now, baseball fans might not remember that Detroit Tigers first baseman Prince Fielder won the 2012 State Farm Home Run Derby, but they’ll certainly remember how an angry pro-Kansas City Royals crowd and its “ignored” slugger Billy Butler became the story of the night. And no, Butler was most certainly not one of the eight participants!
Butler, sitting on 16 home runs for the hometown Royals -- the average total for the four AL participants is 21 -- was not chosen by American League captain/defending derby champion Robinson Cano to compete and well, you see, that’s the issue. Whether it should have been an issue is irrelevant; a year ago, Arizona Diamondbacks fans showed their displeasure when hometown star outfielder Justin Upton wasn’t chosen to compete. But this time, Cano said he would consider a Royal (Butler), then he didn’t pick any and a large Kauffman Stadium crowd of more than 40,000 Royals fans really let him know it every last chance Cano was on camera, chanting Butler’s name, booing Cano, having a passionate blast.
As for Cano, a year after blasting 32 home runs at Chase Field and earning the derby title, with all the pleasant feelings from his father Jose pitching to him, he managed nary a home run Monday. He was definitely one of the favorites in the competition, and could have become the first to repeat since Ken Griffey Jr. in 1999. Instead, Cano became the first player since Detroit Tigers third baseman Brandon Inge in 2009 -- yes, Inge once competed in a home run derby -- to go scoreless. The crowd couldn’t have been more pleased.
Even Butler, hanging around the first-base dugout with the other All-Stars, smiled and seemed to enjoy the attention. Of course, Cano is a lifetime .311 hitter against generally below-average Royals pitching, so perhaps he’s getting the last laugh. Don’t expect the omission from the event to derail Butler’s career, either.
The moral of the story, no matter how you feel about the crowd’s performance, and it seemed to elicit strong feelings on pro/con sides on Twitter: If you’re the captain of the league’s team hosting the derby, seriously consider picking a hometown guy, supposedly deserving or not (and Butler was not more deserving than the fellows Cano chose). It’s a fun event, after all, and it’s not like World Series home-field advantage is on the line (sorry). Basically, New York Mets third baseman David Wright should make plans now for the 2013 event at Citi Field.
As for the actual competition, it was certainly memorable for some majestic blasts by Fielder and Los Angeles Angels outfielder Mark Trumbo. Fielder hit the longest home run of the night -- 476 feet -- baseball met water numerous times and oohs and aahs were common. Trumbo did not advance to the final, falling in a semifinal swing-off with Jose Bautista. Needless to say many people who didn’t know his name -- East Coast bias being what it is, you know -- learned about him and won’t forget his performance. Fielder mashed 12 home runs in a somewhat anticlimactic final round, tying Cano’s 2011 mark for most home runs in a final, while Bautista managed seven. The American League destroyed the National League in overall home runs 61-21, if anyone is counting.
Bautista, tied with Texas Rangers star Josh Hamilton in actual real-life home runs that matter this season with 27, smacked 11 in the opening round, four more than anyone else. He held off seeming fatigue to edge Carlos Beltran by one home run, outlasted Trumbo as well and eventually fell in valiant fashion to Fielder, who had previously won the competition in 2009 in Busch Stadium in St. Louis. The man is clearly unbeatable in Missouri.
Bautista, Fielder, Trumbo and Beltran, a former Royal who was cheered all night, advanced past the first round. Carlos Gonzalez, Andrew McCutchen, Matt Kemp and Cano missed the cut. Kemp, who last played in a big league game in May due to a hamstring injury and should return to the hurting Los Angeles Dodgers this week, managed one home run. His two-year total of long balls in this competition is merely three more than Butler, or just three. Kemp was not booed.