I can't say I'm not nervous about Albert Pujols participating in the Home Run Derby. I'm nervous when I watch Albert Pujols do anything. My hypothetical sports car probably isn't going to get dinged when I pull through into the perfect spot at Wal-Mart, but that doesn't mean I'm not going to get that creeping-horror look in my eyes every time I look through the sliding doors and stare at it. Pujols is so irreplaceably, one-of-a-kind good at baseball that it's terrifying to watch him play baseball.
But even speaking as someone who had to watch Jim Edmonds's beautiful first half numbers get dulled by an ugly post-Derby 2003, I've convinced myself that I don't need to be any more worried than usual when I watch Albert Pujols tonight. Here's how I'm rationalizing it; I hope my tools for serenity now are useful to everybody else who watches Albert Pujols with wide, nervous-twitching eyes.
I'm going to offer these like religious proofs—the goal isn't that you buy all of them at once, but that at least one of them offers some comfort and allows you some method of wrapping your mind around the existential prospect of Albert Pujols hurting himself in something that doesn't even this-time-it-counts.
1. It's just batting practice. This is my go-to reassurance. Albert Pujols comes out to the field every afternoon and is greeted by a few thousand screaming fans who want nothing more than to see him crank home run after home run into Big Mac Land, maybe even spell their name with the remaining working letters. Back in the Bad Old Days (I liked them, but sportswriters have since informed me that there was something Tragic and Wrong about how much I loved the 1998 season) Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire, among other traitors to the game of baseball, had even more fans out there. They took batting practice with the express purpose of giving the fans a show, and they usually did. But as many ways as Big Mac managed to get injured, he didn't have to pull himself out of a BP session or the HRD. He had back problems, but never back-back-back problems.
Pujols is a real-and-true baseball player, and he probably doesn't go quite so directly for the personal-home-run-derby definition of batting practice. But nobody can resist putting on a show when they audience is already sitting there.
2. Lots of those slumps are really just regression to the mean. In-season they seem like slumps; why, Bobby Abreu hit 41 home runs in a single night and then only hit one in all of July! But he only hit one in April, too. If I gave you a list of derby champs with the years removed—better yet, someone less likely to be able to rearrange them in the correct order anyway—it would be extremely difficult to pick the year that each player hurt his swing by going a-derbying out from the rest of his career. The older players decline afterward, the guys in their prime keep on going... it's pretty typical.
Month-to-month slumps happen, even to Albert Pujols. If you've popped enough home runs to qualify for the derby, that slump probably hasn't happened yet, which means there's a pretty good chance it will happen later. Note: In spite of this, somebody is going to upbraid Brandon Inge for ruining his swing and not ending up with 40 home runs this year. I don't know why, but I do know.
3. Albert Pujols takes upwards of one million swings every day. This is one of those cognitive biases, I don't know which one—the one that says a watched pot will always boil over and scald you. Attribution bias, maybe? Anyway, Albert Pujols swings the bat at full speed all the time. He does this in tunnels, before the game, after the game, in MVP Baseball 2004 commercials. He rarely injures himself, and his slumps are rarely anything that Deidre Pujols can't coach him through. If he gets into a bad habit, he's usually able to perceive it.
One home run derby, one night of unchecked fence-swinging, is not going to be any more detrimental to his swing than any particularly successful session with Hal McRae. He's the most famous baseball player—sorry, the player most famous for playing baseball—in the world. He knows what it's like to receive curtain calls. It won't get to his head or his body to get a few more.
These are my reassurances, and I will be clinging to them. I hope they've helped you, too.
We were in the process of sitting down in our Futures Game seats when the grounds crew hopped over and took the—the pre-tarp(?) off of the real tarp. Welcome to the All Star game! (And this, on momup's birthday.) It was, nevertheless, an enjoyable experience, once we were able to experience it. There's not much scouting to be done at a game as contrived as this, an exhibition attended by few, spread out over several hours and a number of minor league levels, but I will say this: Brett Wallace looks notably less walrus-like than he did in our hurried Google Image Searches all these years ago. Summarizing that faint praise, I'll say that Brett Walrus: Third Base is no longer absurd on its face. He looks like a guy who plays third. (Also, he drew multiple walks. He learned his whole Futures Game skill-set from Joe Thurston.)
I got to see the legends and celebrities game, too. momup's pictures aren't yet off the camera but I will say that important figures in my first and fourth favorite sitcoms of all time clashed momentarily at first base. Also, Ozzie Smith still looks like he could play shortstop at a major league level.
All of this means that I'm watching the second game of the doubleheader now, so I'm low on insight, but it's a good time to say this: Ryan Ludwick is finally second on this team in OPS. Just in time for the break, like it was never a problem all along.