By Father Gabe Costa
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In a few weeks, Citi Field will host the annual All-Star game. Selections and elections to All-Star teams always stir up a lot of emotions, especially when the discussion involves an all-time All-Star team.
Since the Midsummer Classic will be preceded by a home-run contest on the previous day, I offer this fantasy all-time Home Run Derby called “The Ultimate Blast.”
Jimmie Foxx walked into the Heavenly Lounge. He grinned as he saw the Babe sitting with a couple of angels. Ruth’s beer glass was empty and his ashtray contained three butts of his favorite brand of cigars, Holy Smoke. It had been a good night. As the two angels left to get into a fresh set of wings, Double X approached the Babe. Ruth, always glad to see the affable Foxx, was about to offer Jimmie a drink. He changed his mind, though, when he saw that there was something on Foxx’s mind. Foxx got right to the point. “Hey, Jidge, there’s a number of kids down there hitting all sorts of homeruns. I’ve been following them for a few years now. Boy they have everything on that Eternal.com web site.”
Babe interrupted, “I know, I know. Hank Aaron broke my career home run record, but that was nearly forty years ago, Jimmie. And that kid Maris hit 61 homers more than fifty years ago. So, why the face, Double X?”
“No, no, Babe, you don’t understand. It’s not Aaron or Maris,” Foxx explained. “It’s these guys like Bonds, who played for San Francisco, and the retired Redbird, Mark McGwire.”
“Jimmie, take it easy…I know they’re strong, and I know, for example, that McGwire was hitting home runs at a pace almost as fast as I did, and I realize that Bonds has had some good years…”
“That’s just it, Bam; Bonds hit 73 home runs a dozen years ago and broke your seasonal records for slugging percentage and walks and McGwire retired after hitting homers at a clip faster than even you! Not only that, Sammy Sosa of the Cubs hit 60-plus homers three times. And not only that…”
“You’re kidding,” said Ruth, his voice trailing as he gazed out the window catching a glimpse of St. Francis of Assisi as he passed by.
“No I’m not, Babe,” said Jimmie. Then, to the bartender, “How about a brew? Better give another one to the Babe, too, okay?”
As the waiter came over with the beers, Ruth had a curious, semi-quizzical look on his face, saying, “Tell me more, Jim.”
Foxx replied, “Babe, they’ve got these sluggers …guys like Junior Griffey, who played for the Reds, Sosa, Bonds, and McGwire…guys hitting fifty/sixty/seventy homers as if it was nothing. As Casey says, ‘You can look it up!’ And their muscles, power…” Foxx added wistfully.
Ruth broke in, “Hold on there. Nobody ever hit balls harder or further than you, the Iron Horse or that kid from Oklahoma.”
Foxx quickly countered with, “Except you, Babe.”
As the two ancient sluggers drained their glasses, an interesting smile came over Ruth’s face. When Foxx asked him what was going on in his mind, Ruth reminded Foxx of their old barnstorming days in the ’20’s and ’30’s. “Yeah, sure. What of it?” Foxx asked.
“Well, Jimmie, I’ll tell you what. Get Lou and Mickey…the four of us are going to take a long, long trip. Much longer than the cruise you and I took to Japan in ’34.” said Babe Ruth calmly.
Then Ruth turned to the bartender and said, “See if you can get Dr. Giamatti on the phone, will you?”
Bart Giamatti was only too happy to set up the specifics and the logistics for, as Giamatti himself dubbed it, “The Ultimate Blast.” An eight-man home run derby would be bracketed according to a lottery guided by Divine Providence. For each contest, a batter would be allowed 10 swings. He could select any ballpark he wanted; and he could choose any hurler from the follow dream pitching staff: Walter Johnson, Christy Mathewson, Grover Cleveland Alexander, Lefty Grove, Bob Feller, Satchel Paige, Sandy Koufax, Whitey Ford, Tom Seaver, Nolan Ryan, and Greg Maddux.
Furthermore, Mel Allen and Red Barber would be broadcasting the entire contest while Grantland Rice and Dick Young would report the results electronically through the latest, most advanced space-time channels. Bill Gallo’s illustrations would depict each slugger, Infinity and Beyond would provide cable coverage, and Howard Cosell would be the roving reporter.
Giamatti continued, “Now, Babe, the four pairings are as follows. First, Sammy Sosa will go against Lou Gehrig. Next, Mickey Mantle will be pitted against Barry Bonds. Then we’ll have Jimmie Foxx versus Mark McGwire. Finally, Junior Griffey will be your opponent. The Sosa-Gehrig winner will face the Mantle-Bonds victor, while the Foxx-McGwire winner will slug it out with the winner of your contest with Griffey. Obviously, the two remaining sluggers will vie for the crown, the “ultimate” crown!”
A grinning and amused Babe simply nodded. Then he added, “Just one more favor.”
“Anything, Babe, you know that,” Giamatti replied.
“I’d like one more pitcher for this staff…an old friend. David Wells, okay?”
Cherubim and Seraphim filled the ballparks. They were legion in number. In the first pairing, Sosa, facing Grove at Wrigley Field, muscled eight balls into the left-field bleachers. While Gehrig hit one rocket after another, he could manage only five dingers off Seaver at Shibe Park.
The Commerce Comet, batting right-handed against his buddy, Whitey Ford at Briggs Stadium, hit six balls into the upper deck, and one more over the upper deck, measured at 550 feet. Bonds couldn’t out-distance the Mick, but he did out-homer him by blasting eight homers into the light air of Coors Field, each tater served up by Maddux.
Fenway Park was the scene where Foxx crushed ball after ball over the Green Monster; when finished, he had eight homers to his credit. He nodded an appreciative “thanks” to Moses Grove. Incredibly, Big Mac bettered him by one, hitting nine Koufax offerings deep into the left center field area of Ebbets Field.
Ruth took his place at home plate as soon as the Big Train indicated that he was ready. Moments before, Junior had a bad time of it, hitting just two-line drive homers into the right field porch of the Babe’s own house, Yankee Stadium. Ryan’s control was fine; Griffey just couldn’t get any lift on the ball.
Predictably, three pitches later, it was over. All three Johnson fastballs wound up in virtually the same spot where Griffey hit his two. The Bam winked a thank you to Walter as they left the field together.
While Bonds and Sosa were slugging it out, Ruth relaxed with Buster Gehrig back at the Heavenly Lounge. Gehrig nursed his glass of Cutty Sark as he asked the pensive Babe what was on his mind. Ruth admitted that he was more than somewhat surprised that his three compatriots had been bested. He quickly added, though, that he felt his pals were better than their opponents.
Another round of drinks arrived just as Jimmie Foxx entered the lounge. Heading straight for their table, he informed both Gehrig and Ruth that the Baker Bowl was the site where Bonds had just edged out Sammy by a score of six to five, with Paige pitching to both stars.
While they were speaking, the bartender came over to tell the Babe about McGwire. “Well, guys, I’d better get to the Stadium; I hear this McGwire fellow had a good day,” the Babe said, as he rose from the table.
Indeed, Big Mac had been awesome. Feller surrendered eight homers to him at Jacobs Field. However, even that show of power paled as Ruth came to the plate in that most hallowed of ballparks; to be sure, even the angelic visitors stirred. Ol’ Pete, now pitching to Ruth, grooved ten pitches. Only one Ruthian blast curved foul; the rest found their way into Ruthville.
And so the stage was set.
Bart Giamatti had arranged for the eight participants to attend a reception in the George Steinbrenner Memorial Office at Yankee Stadium. Also present were special luminaries from the newly created unified hall of fame, known as the Galaxy of Sport. These included Joe Louis, Jack Dempsey, Earl Sande, Bobby Jones, Jim Thorpe, Babe Zaharis, Knute Rockne, Bill Russell and Michael Jordan. Billy Martin was extended an invitation, also, at the Babe’s insistence. Gehrig, Foxx, Mantle, Sosa, Griffey and McGwire all toasted each other; after which, they all wished good fortune to both Bonds and the Babe.
After the preliminaries, Howard Cosell took Bonds and Ruth into a nearby studio. Wanting to frame the upcoming contest via a boxing motif, he proceeded to give a “Tale of the Tape,” comparing and contrasting every possible physical and baseball statistic. Not content with this, he boldly proclaimed that not only would Bonds beat Ruth, he would destroy him.
Bonds seemed edgy and impatient by Cosell’s theatrics. Ruth, on the other hand, merely grinned while offering to shake Barry’s hand and, at the same time, playfully wringing Cosell’s neck.
Christy Mathewson warmed up in his beloved Polo Grounds while Bonds eyed the right field foul pole, not even 260 feet away. As Barry stepped into the batter’s box, the entire Galaxy of Sport – past, present and future – focused on this duel between these two titans.
McGwire, Griffey and Sosa were pulling for Bonds while the Iron Horse, the Mick and Double X openly rooted for the Bambino.
Matty lay in pitch after pitch. Three laser shots went far into the right field upper deck; three made it into the centerfield bleachers, 500 feet away; Three cleared the roof in right center field. However, on the last pitch, Bonds swung through a fastball.
Nine home runs off Big Six gave Bonds a near perfect total…but would it be enough?
Not if David Wells had his way!
Wells was giddy; Wells was in Heaven. Feeling more than ever like a little kid in the presence of his hero, he rushed up to Ruth to get an autograph. He then ran to the mound determined to serve his idol pitches that he could cream.
And so he did.
Nine pitches. Nine home runs.
Before the tenth pitch, though, Ruth stepped out of the batter’s box. Time seemed frozen as Ruth pointed to the upper deck in right field, as only he could do. It was expectantly natural; much like the feeling when one anticipates a miracle.
Wells came in with the pitch. Ruth swung…the crack of the bat rang out through the ball park…the swatted sphere took off…and rose…and rose…leaving Yankee Stadium…landing exactly 714 feet from home plate.
It was over.
All Bonds could do was to truthfully acknowledge what he, and the entire baseball universe, knew: that the Babe was the greatest.
Ruth was pleased…but he also was very thirsty; so he exclaimed to all, “Let’s go have a beer!”
So the seven great sluggers hoisted the Babe upon their shoulders, as they headed for their destination.
When they reached the Heavenly Lounge, Babe Ruth yelled to the bartender, “The drinks are on me.”
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