After Hank Aaron eclipsed Babe Ruth’s all-time Major League Baseball home run record in 1974, he traveled to Tokyo to square off against Japanese Central League slugger Sadaharu Oh in a one-on-one home run derby that Aaron won, hitting 10 long balls to Oh’s nine.
Eventually, Oh would surpass Aaron’s home run total, swatting 868 homers over the course of his 21-year playing career, the entirety of which was spent with the Yomiuri Giants. Not since Oh has Japan produced a slugger the likes of Shohei Ohtani, who leads the majors in home runs at the All-Star Break. The Los Angeles Angels star is a pretty good pitcher, too, drawing the inevitable comparisons to Ruth.
Ohtani is the odds-on betting favorite to win Monday’s Home Run Derby at Coors Field in Denver, facing a field of seven other sluggers — including defending champ Pete Alonso of the New York Mets. (There was no 2020 competition due to COVID.) PointsBet has Ohtani at odds of +205 to win (down from +300 when odds opened last week), while DraftKings has him at +260 (shrunken from an opening number of +350). Feast-or-famine Joey Gallo of the Texas Rangers and Alonso are the consensus second and third picks, respectively, while Juan Soto, Matt Olson, Trey Mancini, Salvador Perez, and hometown hero Trevor Story round out the list of competitors.
DraftKings is also offering some fun Derby props for sports bettors, such as how far the longest homer will travel (over/under 510.5 feet at the mile-high launching pad). Betfred is offering similar props, but it’s a shame single-round record-holder Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and the red-hot (until suffering an injury) Kyle Schwarber declined to participate in this year’s derby. Their presence likely would have nudged the longest-homer over/under even higher and created a three-way pick ‘em for the win.
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. has decided not participate at this year's Home Run Derby.
He's looking forward to being at the All Star Game in Colorado but told me he'd like to use the time to regroup, refresh mentally for the second half of the season. #BlueJays
— Hazel Mae (@thehazelmae) June 21, 2021
Since Major League Baseball began formally staging the Home Run Derby in 1985, only two players — Yoenis Céspedes and Giancarlo Stanton — have won the competition without being selected to an All-Star team. Alonso, Mancini, and Story are the three civilians in this year’s derby, so history isn’t on their side.
Alonso in rarefied air
But don’t rule Alonso out just yet. In 2019, he became one of only three players in Major League history — along with Aaron Judge (2017) and Ken Griffey Jr. (1994 and 1998) — to swat 30 home runs before the All-Star Break, win the Home Run Derby, and claim a regular-season home run title in the same year. (The ’98 Derby, as well as the All-Star Game, was held at Coors Field.) Alonso’s 17 homers this year pale in comparison to Ohtani’s 33, but the defending champ can’t be discounted, especially when he’s occupying the same rarefied statistical air as The Kid.
Griffey didn’t have 30 homers before the All-Star Break in 1999, but he wound up leading the American League with 48 that year and also won the Home Run Derby. That makes him one of just eight players to pull off that slightly lesser feat, along with Alonso, Judge, Juan Gonzalez, Ryan Howard, and the Cubbie triumvirate of Andrew Dawson, Ryne Sandberg, and Sammy Sosa.
As for players who’ve swatted 30 homers at the break and won the Home Run Derby, but didn’t go on to claim the overall homer title in their respective league, that’s a list of one: Luis Gonzales in 2001. That happens to be the year when Barry Bonds stroked 73, shattering MLB’s single-season record with the, uh, wind at his back. Bonds was eliminated after the second round of that year’s derby, mustering just 10 homers at Seattle’s Safeco Field, then regarded as the ultimate pitcher’s park.
In recent years, the Home Run Derby’s TV ratings have run neck-and-neck with the All-Star Game itself, with betting interest on a level playing field as well. PointsBet Communications Analyst Wyatt Yearout predicts that action on the derby and Wednesday’s All-Star Game “will be relatively close,” adding that “the only reason why the ASG might take more action is because we’ll be able to offer more props and additional markets.”
“The Home Run Derby, that’s historically been a big betting event,” said PointsBet U.S. Head of Trading Jay Croucher. “Particularly this year with Shohei, it’s a lot more appealing to bettors. We’ve already taken twice as many bets on Shohei as anyone else. Trevor Story has since committed, so he’s seeing a fair amount of betting, second behind Ohtani.”