Bell Looks to Rewrite Pirates Poor History in the Derby

Pirates slugger aims to break the franchise curse of poor Home Run derby performances.

Noah Hiles
July 08, 2019 - 11:46 am

© Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

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CLEVELAND (93.7 The Fan) – Pittsburgh has had its fair share of sluggers throughout history. From Ralph Kiner to Willie Stargell, a majority of the Bucs best players were known for their ability to hit the baseball. However, the one night the Pirates have historically struggled to send the ball out of the park is the evening when it counts the most.

Monday night, Pirates first basemen Josh Bell will compete in the T-Mobile Home Run Derby. Bell will be the sixth player in franchise history to partake in the event. If he hopes to walk away at the end of the night with the $1 million prize that goes to the champion, he will have to break the long curse that has haunted the sluggers of Pirates past.

There have been a total of 2,562 homeruns hit since the first derby took place in 1985. Despite having big names such as Barry Bonds or Andrew McCutchen representing Pittsburgh, the Bucs have contributed just 12 homeruns to the overall total. Only Tampa Bay (8) has hit less in the history of the derby. Yet, when you consider the fact that the Rays have had just two contestants (less than half of the Pirates total) the numbers unfortunately show that the Bucs are the worst franchise in home run derby history.

Pirates batters average just 2.4 homeruns per derby appearance which is by far the lowest out of any major league team. Tampa Bay’s average of 4 homers pre derby is the second worst ranking out of all 30 clubs, yet it nearly doubles the Bucs. For measure, the New York Yankees have both the most homeruns (177) and the best average (19.6) in the 34 year history of the event.

One might ask where things went wrong for the Pirates. The answer to that question can be found at the beginning of Pittsburgh’s homerun derby history. Bobby Bonilla became the first Bucco to be a part of the event in the 1990 derby. He finished tied for dead last with a grand total of zero dingers.

Two years later, Bonds threw his name into the ring, competing in his first of many derbies. Similar to his overall homerun total, Bonds got better in the event as time went on, as he finished in last place in 1992 after hitting just two baseball’s out of the park.

13 years would go by before the Pirates had their next contestant. The club would have to wait even longer to add to its derby total as Jason Bay followed in Bonilla’s footsteps, hitting zero homers in 2005.

 The most recent Pirates participants have been the best, with McCutchen hitting four in 2012 and Pedro Alvarez smashing six in 2013. While neither Cutch or the Big Bull were able to advance to the next round, each of them succeeded in avoiding last place.

Bell needs just seven homers to become the best homerun derby participant in Pirates history. In last year’s derby, Dodgers infielder Max Muncy’s 12 homers were the lowest total to reach the second round. If Bell were to do the exact same thing tonight, not only would he become the first ever Bucco to advance to the second round in the derby, he’d also tie the franchise total.

There is a great deal of opportunity for Josh Bell on Monday night. If he can win the derby, Bell will make more money in one evening than he will all season playing for the Pirates. Even if he does not walk away with the crown, there is still a solid chance he at least comes back to Pittsburgh knowing that he gave fans a show that previous players failed to do.

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