The home run holds a special place in baseball. Nothing else really comes close.
And the men who are the best at hitting them also hold a special place in the hearts of fans: Ruth, Mantle, Mays, Aaron and-—depending on how you feel about modern chemistry-—Bonds.
Albert Pujols, who seems to be a lock for Cooperstown, is climbing the all-time home run ladder, sandwiched between Mickey Mantle and Mike Schmidt for 16th all-time with 546. It’s his fourth time in the contest and his first since 2009, but has never won the event.
“I’m going to give it one last chance,” Pujols told ESPN. He declined an invitation to the derby last season because he wasn’t selected as an All-Star. “You want to be in the game. That’s the most important thing because you want to be able to have a chance to help the American League have home field advantage.”
Prince Fielder has the second-most home runs of anyone in the derby with 302, good for 136th all-time.
Rookies Joc Pederson and Kris Bryant seem primed to join the ranks of elite sluggers. And while Manny Machado isn’t a rookie, he’s just 23—-the same age as Pederson and Bryant. Machado got a head start on those two as this is his fourth season in the majors. His power has started to emerge this year, and he’s already tallied 52 career home runs.
“I think this new generation coming in, all these guys have pop,” Machado told the Baltimore Sun. “The new era is coming back, with us hitting homers. It’s exciting to see all of these young players, and us playing well and hitting bombs. It’s going to be a fun derby.”
Rounding out the contest are Josh Donaldson, Anthony Rizzo and Todd Frazier, the hometown favorite. This year’s All-Star festivities are being hosted by Frazier’s Cincinnati Reds and the hopes are high for the third baseman after he finished second to Yoenis Cespedes last season.
Rizzo, Bryant’s teammate on the Cubs, has seen his power blossom the past two seasons after a bit of a shaky start to his career. But this year, the first baseman is putting up MVP-calibre numbers. As is Donaldson, an All-Star third baseman, who is in his first year in Toronto after becoming a star in Oakland.
Here’s how the derby breaks down:
(1) Albert Pujols vs. (8) Kris Bryant
(4) Joc Pederson vs. (5) Manny Machado
(3) Josh Donaldson vs. (6) Anthony Rizzo
(2) Todd Frazier vs. (7) Prince Fielder
Pujols-Bryant winner vs. Pederson-Machado winner
Donaldson-Rizzo winner vs. Frazier-Fielder winner
Semifinal winners face off for the crown
And here are some handy-dandy links to get you even more exited for the contest.