PHOENIX -- After 25 years of Home Run Derby chills and thrills, after a quarter-century of watching baseballs roaring into orbit, you'd think one of these years, they'd get this right.
And this was almost the year.
For the 26th edition of Derby Madness, coming up Monday night on the ESPN television network, baseball tried something new, something that had a chance to propel this event to a whole new, super-cool plateau:
In the grand tradition of Captain Nemo, Captain Kirk and Cap'n Crunch, baseball pointed its golden saber at David Ortiz and Prince Fielder, named them the first captains in Derby history and said: "You guys are in charge."
The Prince and the Papi were specifically told the rest of this Derby field was up to them -- and they could ask anybody they wanted. Didn't matter if it was Jose Bautista or the guy at the next locker. Didn't matter if it was a distinguished member of the All-Star roster or some dude they saw launching bombs at the softball field down the block.
They could have given us the most fun Derby field ever. Instead, they basically gave us the same old same old -- four American League All-Stars versus four National League All-Stars. What's up with that?
Been there. Done this. Then again, also seen this and enjoyed this. So it'll still be a fun evening in the desert, we're sure.
But we think there's a better way. And here's our plan:
In this corner: Four ALL-STARS. In the other corner: The one, the only BP LEGENDS -- four of the greatest batting-practice showmen in North America.
And here's the best part: Those legends would be selected by you, the American public.
Now THAT'S a Derby we'd rearrange our schedule for.
So you know which four fabled mashers you'd be watching Monday night if we were running this show and you got to pick the field?
Where'd those four names come from, you ask? Hey, you're the ones who already chose them -- when we let you vote on this just last week at SportsNation.
We collected a fun bunch of names from players and scouts, slapped together a 12-man ballot of guys who didn't get invited to the All-Star festivities (well, except for Harper in the Futures Game), and let America make the call. It was just another great moment in the history of our democracy. We were proud to be a part of it.
That isn't the Derby you'll get to witness at Chase Field on Monday night. But we can still dream, can't we? So because we believe here in giving the people what they want, we're going to give you a look at what might have been if OUR Derby field got to take its hacks.
We asked the geniuses at ESPN Home Run Tracker to run a computerized simulation of our big boppers doing their thing in a fantasized version of the Derby. And we'll let you in on the results in a moment. But first, let's review the credentials of our favorite BP Legends:
Just because the Big Donkey hasn't been his usual 40-homer-machine self this year in Chicago doesn't mean he isn't as fun to watch launching his own inimitable BP space shuttles as any human alive.
"If you put him in a Derby, he'd be unbelievable," said his former teammate in Washington, Drew Storen. "I'd definitely be tuned in. That's for sure. The thing about Dunner is, he puts on a show in BP, and I don't even think he's trying. It's just natural. I think if he actually tried to put something into the ball, he'd be dangerous."
In other words, those innocent folks hanging out at the Chase Field swimming pool would be in serious trouble if Dunn were in this Derby?
"Not only would THEY be in trouble," Storen laughed, "I think the people outside the stadium by those windows, they might be in trouble."
You may find this hard to believe, but Dunn has never taken part in a single Home Run Derby, mostly due to the sad truth that, despite all his 40-homer seasons, he's made only one All-Star team. And he made that one back when he was just 22 and hadn't even hit 40 in his career.
In fact, other than Alex Rodriguez -- who has now dodged 14 consecutive Derbies -- Adam Dunn has the most career homers (363) of any active player who has never appeared in a Home Run Derby. It's about time that changes. Don't you think?
He's only 21 years old. He's hit just 40 career big league homers. And he's still in the learning stages of trying to figure out how to become the next Babe Ruth. But already, it's amazing how many people have figured out what a mesmerizing sight it can be to watch Stanton put a whomping on any given poor, defenseless baseball.
"I've seen him hit so many [in batting practice]," chuckled Stanton's teammate, Logan Morrison, "that nothing really impresses me anymore -- except when we go to different stadiums and I say, 'I don't know if he could hit THAT.' And then he hits THAT. And I'm like, 'All right. I guess he can.'"
So what kind of 'THATS' are we talking about here? Uh, how about the giant Coke bottle that sits BEHIND the left-field seats in San Francisco, approximately 505 feet from home plate.
"Yeah, he hit the Coke bottle," Morrison reported. "He got a standing O for that -- during BP."
OK, well how about the massive baseball glove, even further out in left-center field in San Francisco?
"He could probably hit that," Morrison quipped, "on one hop."
Hey, don't put it past this man. According to the ESPN Home Run Tracker, the average Mike Stanton lonnnnnng ball this year has traveled 414 feet -- and 107.5 miles per hour. So just imagine this Paul Bunyan in an actual Derby.
"It would be like a thunderstorm," Morrison said. "You know how in a thunderstorm, lightning comes before the thunder? So his hands would be lightning, and then you'd hear the thunder when the ball hits his bat. And you'd see bolts going all over the stadium. It's pretty impressive. It's like that 13-year-old in Little League who grew faster than anybody, and he's on the travel team, and he beats you single-handedly. He makes these parks look like Little League parks."
Wily Mo Pena
Hard to believe that until he showed up on the scene right here in Arizona a few weeks ago, we'd all kind of lost track of Wily Mo. After all, how do you lose track of a man who is larger than your average mountain range?
But then, after three years in minor league and independent league oblivion, he stepped up to home plate, smoked 904 feet worth of bookend homers in a span of three days in June, and the Wily Mo Pena space program was back in business. Then the final sign that his cult-hero status had officially hit home came late last week, when he surged from behind to pass Ichiro Suzuki and land the final spot in our People's Choice version of this Derby.
"He hits Herman Munster homers," one NL scout said of Pena. "And if you're going to a Home Run Derby, you don't care if you're seeing guys who are good PLAYERS. You want to see a guy who's a human launching pad."
Well, if Wily Mo were actually a good PLAYER, he wouldn't have gone 1,092 days in between homers in the big leagues, now would he? But to get those occasional Cape Wily Mo eruptions, a team knows it's going to have to put up with a whole lot of, uhhh, nothing much. Set aside his five home runs for the D-backs, in fact, and you've got a guy with 19 strikeouts, four other hits (all singles) and one RBI that didn't come via a long ball.
"He's tough to watch," said another scout. "I've seen him hit the top of the cage way too many times. But I'll tell you what. On the days he does square one up, it comes down in the next county."
In other words, Pena was born to compete in this extravaganza. It's his calling. Just ask all the players who dropped his name on us in the past week.
"He's just got stupid amounts of strength," said former Derby champ Ryan Howard. "And when he uses that strength for the powers of good, bad things happen to innocent pitchers."
Obviously, we'd really have to bend the Derby rules to get Harper into this extravaganza. After all, not only did he just arrive in Double-A, but the guys he started high school with only graduated a few weeks ago.
But just for fun, we invited him onto our SportsNation ballot. And you folks took it from there. Never doubted for a moment that he'd make this field.
"He's probably the polar opposite of Dunn," said Storen. "Dunner is actually pretty casual about it. But Bryce -- let's just say he's not afraid to test his obliques and let it fly. He doesn't waste a swing. And that's what makes it so impressive. I don't know that I've ever seen anybody swing so hard. He's kind of like a Happy Gilmore type. He puts so much power behind every swing, I don't know how he even hits it."
Only a couple of weeks ago, Harper disappointed thousands of people when he declined an invitation to participate in the South Atlantic League All-Star Game's version of the derby, because of a sore thumb. But two years ago, he did take part in a famous high school derby, the International Power Showcase, at Tropicana Field. And people are still talking about it.
All he did that day was squash a 502-foot comet that splattered off the back wall of the Trop. Its speed off the bat was estimated at a leisurely 124.5 miles per hour. OK, so he hit it with an aluminum bat. So what? Our friends at ESPN Home Run Tracker say it would have sailed clear out of Yankee Stadium.
Now just imagine THAT act in this Home Run Derby. Scary thought.
"I feel like that would be one of his big career goals, to tell you the truth," Storen said, "because that would be something that's just suited for him. It would be a show. You know that. I feel like it would be one of those sessions people would be talking about for years to come."
But here's the good news: You don't have to imagine it. We'll tell you exactly how our fantasy Derby would have turned out, because we have the computer simulation, based on real home runs mashed by all these men, to lay it all out for us, in vivid detail.
We've pared the field of All-Stars down to four -- Ortiz, Fielder, Matt Kemp and Bautista. Now it's time to match them up against our BP Legends. Only four of them will survive Round 1.
Harper squashes one 459-foot monster mash off the "P" in the "UPTOWN" sign, way up and out there in deep right field (translated from his 502-foot metal-bat homer at the 2009 International Power Showcase Home Run Derby in Tropicana Field -- with that result converted to a wood bat), but he hits only six altogether. So that's it for him. Also exiting is Arizona's suddenly beloved Pena, despite one 464-foot ooh-and-aah special that splatters off the wall above the Friday's restaurant.
But Stanton and Dunn will keep on raking, after crunching a dozen bombs each -- including a 468-foot rocket off the scoreboard by Stanton (translated from a May 19, 2011, homer at Citi Field) and a 479-footer from Dunn (translated from a July 10, 2008, homer at Wrigley Field) off the facing of the third deck.
Awaiting them in the next round will be Fielder, whose 14 first-round blasts are highlighted by a 484-footer over the right-center-field concourse (translated from a May 12, 2006, homer that hit the RoadRunner ad on the back wall of Miller Park), and the electrifying Bautista, who pulls one long homer after another (of course), until he's put a Josh Hamilton-esque 19 on the board. Do we have an epic finish coming up, or what?
Stanton and Bautista just can't stop hitting baseballs that won't come down. Stanton advances with eight astonishing homers, topped by a 497-footer that lands on the back of the roof atop Friday's, 75 feet above field level. And Bautista joins him in the finals with 13 more space shots, including a 507-foot, all-time Derby highlight-film classic that clanks off the wall above the Fatburger restaurant in left.
Stanton launches three quick jacks into the Friday's deck in left, but finally wears down and finishes with only five. So that sets up Bautista to finish him off. When Bautista cranks his sixth homer of the round -- and 38th of the night -- off the window of Friday's, this epic Derby finally belongs to him, as 49,000 witnesses in Phoenix empty what's left of their vocal cords.
Alas, it's only a dream. But it sure sounds like a darned entertaining dream. And the best part is, baseball can easily make this dream come true. Somebody just has to read this column and scream, "Voila!" And if that happens, as always, we'll be glad to waive our usual fee.
Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His latest book, "Worth The Wait: Tales of the 2008 Phillies," was published by Triumph Books and is now available in a new paperback edition, in bookstores and online. Click here to order a copy.
Follow Jayson Stark on Twitter: @jaysonst