The ghost of Roy Hobbs was in The Bronx last night.
Josh Hamilton put on an incredible power display for more than 53,000 in Yankee Stadium and ESPN’s international television audience during the 2008 State Farm Home Run Derby. The Texas Rangers outfielder shattered the event record, cracking 28 home runs in the first round, including 13 in a row at one juncture.
Not a Stadium homer, among them — you know the pop fly variety into the short porch in rightfield, made famous in relatively recent vintage by Graig Nettles and the late Bobby Murcer, God rest his soul.
No, Hamilton delivered a few lasers down the rightfield line. Most were towering drives into the upper deck, or deep into the rear rows of the bleachers. A couple of parabolas made it into the black seats in centerfield.. His second homer, struck just above the Bank of America sign in right-center, and below the frieze.
More than a few wondered if that bomb, gauged at 502 feet (two others exploded beyond that distance), had left the building. Hamilton had threatened/joked about going out of the park during a press conference –something no one, not Ruth, not Mantle (although he hit two shots that were still rising off the frieze above rightfield before the building’s 1970s renovation), not Reg-gie — has ever done in a game. (Legend has it that Bernie Williams scalded one out in BP over the gap that used to house the Yankee bullpen, between the right field grandstand and the bleachers.)
As it stands, there will be only 33 more chances to achieve that feat –tonight’s All-Star affair and 32 regular-season games (Sadly, it doesn’t look like there will be any October baseball in the Cathedral’s final season; shame on you Brian Cashman.)
The 28 dingers, which elicited cheers of “Ham-il-ton” from the crowd, was more than the collective total of the other three semifinalists– Minnesota’s Justin Morneau (eight), Milwaukee’s Ryan Braun (seven) and Houston’s Lance Berkman (eight)..
Addicted to Hamilton’s unbelievable power surge, the fans barely noticed the other competitors, even as they sailed their share into the upper decks in right and left, or Monument Park.
Hamilton cracked out four more during just a four-out second round (you get 10), as Morneau added nine to his total to set the stage for what would be the anticlimactic final.
Now the slate was clean. Morneau went first: He clocked only three while posting eight outs. Before he was done, though, he added two more.
Surely, the man nicknamed “The Natural” would make short work of the six, and continue to go long to 42, to establish a new overall Derby mark. With, as what ESPN analyst Steve Phillips called “light tower power,” perhaps Hamilton would hit the circuitry above the Stadium, sending down a shower of lights, just like Robert Redford did in the theatrical.
Alas, there was no Hollywood ending for Hamilton, who has overcome drug addiction problems that banished him from baseball for four years. His power evidently spent — you knew he was in trouble when two drives clipped the outfield wall – he managed just three.
Morneau, with a total of 22, 13 shy of his competitor, donned the Derby crown. But for everyone who watched, July 14 was clearly the night Hamilton owned that not so little house in the Bronx.