Angel outfielder Garret Anderson has never tried to hit home runs throughout his distinguished nine-year big league career, which made his victory in Monday night's All-Star home run derby in U.S. Cellular Field all the more ironic.
Anderson edged out St. Louis slugger Albert Pujols, 9-8, in the final round, winning the derby when Pujols' final swing resulted in a line drive off the left-field wall.
Anderson beat Cardinal outfielder Jim Edmonds, his former Angel teammate, 6-4, in the semifinals, while Pujols advanced with an impressive 14-11 semifinal victory over New York Yankee first baseman Jason Giambi, a record-tying round in which Pujols smashed home runs of 454 and 478 feet.
"I don't look at myself as a home run hitter, but I know I'm capable of hitting some balls out of the park," said Anderson, who hit .316 with 22 homers and 78 runs batted in to earn an All-Star start in left field tonight.
"It's just another platform to go out and show America what I can do."
Anderson got some advice before the competition from Angel teammate Troy Glaus, who went homerless in the 2001 All-Star derby in Seattle.
"He said don't try to swing too hard," said Anderson, whose only previous home-run derby experience was in 1997, when the Angels stopped at their double-A affiliate for an exhibition game. "There are times you try to hit home runs in batting practice, and I can see what he's talking about."
Many players opt out of the derby because they fear it will mess up their swings, but Anderson isn't concerned about any side effects.
"That swing I used [Monday] night is not a swing I try to use during the season," he said. "It was just strictly for trying to hit the ball over the fence. During the season, mentally and physically, I don't do that. I look for mistakes and try to hit them hard."
The National League lineup will have a distinct St. Louis feel, with Cardinals Edgar Renteria, Edmonds and Pujols occupying the first three spots.
NL Manager Dusty Baker took advantage of the designated hitter spot to insert the Gold Glove-winning Edmonds in center field and move Barry Bonds, voted an outfield starter, to DH.
"I've been told to win the game, so I want a bona-fide center fielder," Baker said. "If [the AL] had started a left-hander, I would have gone with Andruw Jones in center."
Bonds, 39, is an eight-time Gold Glove winner, but the left fielder is not nearly the defensive player he was during the 1990s.
"The toughest thing about getting old is not hitting, it's playing defense," Baker said. "That's where you can get hurt, running into walls. Guys can hit from a wheelchair, but playing defense is tough. You don't see many 39-year-old guys playing outfield."
Bonds agreed, saying he had no problem being the DH.
"It's time," he said. "Let the kids play."
Bonds also applied the same thinking to his decision to not participate in the home run derby.
Although he has eight home runs this month, 30 for the 12th straight season (joining Jimmie Foxx as the only players to do that), and 643 in his career, 17 behind his godfather, Willie Mays, who is third on the all-time list, Bonds said he did not have to justify the decision and that it was simply time to let some younger guys have their whacks.
On the decision to give home-field advantage in the World Series to the league that wins the All-Star game, Bonds said: "Get there first and then worry about it. I think it's more fun to kick the other guy's ... on his own field anyway. We didn't lose to the Angels last year because they had the home-field advantage. We lost because they played better."
Baker avoided further controversy and criticism when he added rookie sensation Dontrelle Willis, the Florida Marlin pitcher, to the NL roster in place of injured Dodger right-hander Kevin Brown.
But with Willis having thrown 104 pitches in five innings of Sunday's 11-4 win over Montreal, it's doubtful the exuberant left-hander will pitch tonight.
"You're treading dangerous territory," Baker said. "I've got to talk to him, see how he rebounds. I know a lot of fans want to see him, but if he goes out and hurts himself, they're not going to see him for a long time.
"What's more important, people seeing him pitch in the All-Star game or the health of this young man? Health supercedes one game. To win at all costs at the expense of hurting someone ... I won't do that."
The Seattle Mariners, who lead the AL West by four games, probably have the most to lose if the NL gains home-field advantage in the World Series. If the Mariners reach the World Series, they would be without their best run-producer, designated hitter Edgar Martinez, for four of the seven games.
"Edgar is a huge part of our lineup, and when he's out when we go on the road for interleague games, we miss our four-hole hitter," Seattle second baseman Bret Boone said. "That's big."
Likewise, Boston catcher Jason Varitek believes the Red Sox would suffer without the DH in their lineup.