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T-Mobile Home Run Derby
La Pantera sets out to crush the Derby.
Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images

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Top Derby seed Luis Robert Jr. gets the White Sox treatment in Seattle

La Pantera falls short, while Vladimir Guerrero Jr. takes home the trophy 16 years after his father 

Happy days off, White Sox fans, and welcome to the 2023 All-Star break. The midseason spectacle of the Home Run Derby is here to remind us that even the best South Side player is still going to get the White Sox treatment from any national outlet.

Luis Robert Jr., or as he was known by one announcer, “Ruis Lobert Goonver,” was largely neglected for his first All-Star event appearance, and in more ways than one. Robert, the No. 1 seed of the Home Run Derby, looked like an awkward fifth grader during his introduction on the stage, as his shy smile replaced his common confidence that we all love. And who can blame him? They introduced him by shortchanging him two entire home runs on the season (he has 26, not 24), and was barely mentioned before that.

Listen, I love the Home Run Derby, and I watch it every year without fail, but that T-Mobile opening face-off on that flaming stage looked fucking stupid. These are athletes, not actors, so they’ll look bored and scared if you ask them to perform absurd MMA-like staredowns while in full uniform, holding a bat for some reason. Not everyone can be as cool as Randy Arozarena, because having a personality is breaking one of those precious unwritten rules.

But this is the All-Star Break! It’s time to break the rules, I guess. It’s OK to be cool and have a personality, just like us, Major League Baseball. Let’s hire a lousy, no-name DJ who plays budget hits from 2013 while gyrating like a self-conscious introvert who wants to look like they’re having fun at the party. Let’s make the bonus balls magenta, because T-Mobile. Let’s split-screen the Derby so you can’t see what’s going on, because we want to make it quirky and cool and fun. It’s OK if we blow our budget on the clumsy flaming stage, because we can cut money from the audio engineering, so every mic is either whisper quiet or clipping into the red. Let’s only hire a single bilingual interviewer so we don’t have to pay a separate translator, and let’s give Bo Bichette a microphone and set him loose with absolutely no direction or training, so his aimless meandering can fill the already-rushed breaks with absolute nothingness.

Major League Baseball broadcast annoyances aside, this year’s Home Run Derby was the spectacle most of us wanted, and then some. Maybe I’m in the minority here, but I love a display, and with so many great players competing, this was one of the more exciting Derbies of recent years.

Pete Alonso, who brought the worst pitcher in Derby history, was set to tie the record for three Home Run Derby wins with Ken Griffey, Jr., boldly proclaiming himself the “best power hitter,” but he was no match for the First Round Hometown Julio Rodríguez Extravaganza. J-Rod stunned the nation with a record-breaking, 41-home run single round, and sent Alonso packing quick.

“I think I’m the best power hitter.” dies

Switch-hitter Adley Rustchman received a standing ovation after switching from left to right in the bonus round, and dinging 27 dongers in a dramatic performance that seemed insurmountable. Cue the copium-huffing White Sox haters, who blame Major League Baseball and/or Luis Robert Jr. for doing his job and smacking out an impressive walk-off 28, rendering his bonus minute pointless.

Meanwhile, the Luis Robert Jr. White Sox erasure didn’t go unnoticed.

Yep, Luis’ baseballs were filled with lead and he got a five-second break.

The favorite to win by most media and betting outlets was Vladimir Guerrero Jr., who didn’t look like the top pick during his first and second rounds, fatiguing quickly and wearing it all over his face. Despite that, Vlad put bonus-less Mookie Betts away in the first round, to no one’s surprise. During Vlad’s break at 1:30, the announcer said that 11 home runs at the break is the highest number, but Luis Robert, Jr. had 13 during his break, which is that classic White Sox erasure we’ve all grown to expect at this point. Vlad Jr. buried hometown favorite Rodríguez during the second round, pleasing almost everyone besides the live spectators.

Dad hates J-Rod.

A personal favorite to win was Randy Arozarena, who studied T-Mobile Stadium the last time the Rays were there, not keeping his desire to win a secret. He smashed Adolis Garcia in the first round and Robert in the second to face Vlad Jr. for the final round. Arozarena’s charm and character make him one of my favorite players to watch, and I was pretty sure he was going to wear the cowboy boots for his final round performance ... but he stood them up for good luck, and wore his cleats, because even Major League Baseball isn’t cool enough for that.

Guerrero ended up defeating Arozarena in the final round, taking home the Home Run Derby trophy 16 years after his father. Meanwhile, the White Sox wasted no time whatsoever trying to get more of our money, sending out a marketing email for 40% off tickets.

I think my dad has regrets.

Watching the camaraderie among the players is one of the best parts of the All-Star break, and this year didn’t disappoint. J.D. Martinez coaching Mookie Betts on where to put the ball, and Mookie joking that he doesn’t know how to do that was a top moment, along with Vlad’s entourage encouraging him and reminding him to breathe. Friendships among players are things we rarely get to witness, and being treated to that during these events reminds us that these guys are regular people with alliances, feelings, and tribulations. If that energy isn’t coming from the leaders, then it won’t exist, and therefore cannot reverberate down to the players.

The body language of White Sox players speaks for itself this year, and that collective attitude casts a pall that weakens the team and works against the sense of fellowship they need to start winning. Until that winning happens, at least we have the spectacle of the All-Star break to distract us.

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